Warren Buffett, who owned about 81 million shares in IBM at the end of 2016, sold off about a third of that stake in the first and second quarters of 2017.
He told CNBC this in a report dated May 4, 2017 (Warren Buffett has sold IBM shares, and ‘revalued’ tech icon downward, cites ‘big strong competitors’).
Mr Buffett’s FY2016 letter to Berkshire Hathaway, of which he is chairman and CEO, showed that at end-2016, the company owned 81,232,303 shares in IBM. The cost was US$13,815 million. “This is our actual purchase price and also our tax basis; GAAP “cost” differs in a few cases because of write-downs that have been required under GAAP rules,” said Mr Buffett in the shareholder letter.
Berkshire Hathaway first bought into IBM in 2011. A Reuters report (Nov 24, 2011) headlined “Buffett sheds tech aversion with big IBM investment” said: “Warren Buffett has always made his distaste for technology investments clear, but on Monday he changed his ways in spectacular fashion. The Berkshire Hathaway chief executive said he has bought nearly $11 billion of International Business Machines Corp (IBM) stock in the last eight months, building a roughly 5.5 percent stake that potentially makes him the largest shareholder in the company.”
At that time in 2011, Mr Buffett was also quoted as saying in an interview on cable television network CNBC that he was struck by IBM’s ability to retain corporate clients, which made it indispensable in a way that few other services were.
Why then did he slash the stake in 2017? The CNBC May 4, 2017, report on Mr Buffett’s slashing of the IBM stake quoted him as saying: “I don’t value IBM the same way that I did 6 years ago when I started buying… I’ve revalued it somewhat downward.”
“When it got above $180 we actually sold a reasonable amount of stock,” said Mr Buffett.
According to Mr Buffett, IBM hadn’t performed the way he had expected — or the way IBM’s management had expected — when he first started buying the shares six years ago.
“IBM is a big strong company, but they’ve got big strong competitors too,” said Mr Buffett.
Mr Buffett also said he had stopped selling. At that point, IBM shares were trading below US$160.