Editors' pick: Originally published Feb. 17.
Warren Buffett has never struck me as someone who would do something drastic without very careful consideration. That's why the billionaire investor's recent actions on Walmart (WMT) could be quite telling.
Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.A) (BRK.B) head cheese sold off his entire $900 million stake in Walmart, according to a 13F filing last week. The sale left Buffett with no exposure to the dividend-paying world's largest retailer. Just think about this: Buffett decided to take that money from Walmart and allocate it toward several new positions in airlines, an industry he once detested. Further, the complete Walmart stock dump comes as the company has made early, impressive strides online under Jet.com founder Marc Lore to close the gap with Amazon (AMZN) while also enjoying decent sales trends in the U.S. Pretty interesting.
Ultimately, the likely well-timed sale by Buffett may indicate a few things.
First is that 2017 could prove to be a challenging year for Walmart. Although Buffett is by no means a short-term trader, the reality is that Walmart's stock could come under pressure this year from a number of factors. For instance, gas prices and food inflation have picked back up, which may zap consumer spending. To be sure, that was a mild takeaway from fourth-quarter earnings reports from packaged goods giants Coca-Cola (KO) and Action Alerts PLUS holding PepsiCo (PEP) (and data from Nielsen the industry uses). Moreover, tax refunds will likely be delayed for many households this year. Walmart's business often thrives during tax season. Delays could push out that pickup in business or make people think twice about instantly spending all of their checks on a new 50-inch TV.