Warren Buffett Makes 13 Serious Changes in His 2017 Stock Picks

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Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) has released its public equity holdings as of December 31, 2016. While the stock picks and holdings of Warren Buffett and his portfolio managers are always followed closely, the number of changes for the 2017 portfolio was massive. 24/7 Wall St. has tracked Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway’s investments for years now, and the top issue here is that the changes actually look larger than they have ever been in any quarterly report.

Buffett and his team of portfolio managers had public equity holdings of $147.9 billion at the end of 2016. This was up almost $20 billion from the $128.8 billion counted at the end of the third quarter of 2016, and it is even higher than the $115.46 billion counted as of December 31, 2015.

Buffett is considered to be the ultimate “whale watch” by investors who like seeing what hedge funds and activist investors are buying and selling. After all, he is considered to be the best investor of modern times. One key issue to consider here is that Ted Weschler and Todd Combs obviously have been given an expanded role in running the Berkshire Hathaway stocks.

24/7 Wall St. has shown the full Buffett holdings, and the reality is that there are 13 major changes that need to be considered by investors. Again, the total volume of changes looks larger than anything ever seen from Buffett and his team on a quarterly basis. While Buffett doesn’t care about analyst reports and price targets, the consensus analyst price targets from Thomson Reuters have been included so investors can see how these match up against the current share prices.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has become a much larger holding for Team Buffett, and it was selected by one of the Buffett portfolio managers in 2016. The new Apple stake at the end of 2016 was 57,359,652 shares, up from just 15.227 million in the prior quarter. It seems quite fortunate for Berkshire Hathaway that Apple shares just hit a new all-time high on the same day that this higher stake was revealed. Does it seem odd for Buffett’s team to be buying up Apple shares when Buffett is good friends with Bill Gates, and considering that Buffett has pledged his estate to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? If Berkshire Hathaway’s stake remained static, it was worth $7.7 billion in mid-February.

Didn’t Buffett hate airlines for many years? His portfolio managers feel the opposite way now as they have grown their stakes to a sector bet worth over $9 billion. Maybe they now have a good model for the likes of Buffett. They have a wider moat to defend their business with fewer legacy carriers to compete against. Airlines also get to gouge their customers with any fees they can think of, and airline prices now have pricing power. Some airlines are even paying dividends.

American Airlines Group Inc. (NASDAQ: AAL) was a new stake at the end of September, and the portfolio managers more than doubled the stake. Berkshire Hathaway’s end-of-year stake in American Airlines was 45.54 million shares, up from 21.77 million shares just a quarter earlier. That stake would be worth some $2.1 billion in current terms, and with shares above $47, the consensus analyst price target of $54.33 would still indicate upside ahead.

United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL) was a much larger stake of 28.95 million shares at the end of 2016. This had been listed as a new stake of 4.533 million shares at the end of September. If this stake has remained the same, it was worth more than $2.1 billion as of mid-February. At $75.50, United Continental shares have a 52-week range of $37.41 to $76.80, and they also have a consensus analyst price target of $85.44.

Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) was listed as a new stake of 60.02 million shares, up sharply from the prior stake of 6.333 million shares. With Delta’s stock at almost $51 after the filing was disclosed, this stake would be worth some $3.06 billion at current share prices. Delta’s 52-week range is $32.60 to $52.76.

Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) was also an airline stake that was taken at the end of the third quarter, but Buffett told CNBC that he bought this one after his portfolio managers bought the other big three airlines. The actual stake was not known when Buffett made that announcement a quarter earlier, but the new size of the stake was just over 43.2 million shares. Southwest’s post-filing share price was last seen at $56.50, in a 52-week range of $35.42 to $56.91, and with a consensus price target of $62.07. This Southwest Airlines stake would be worth more than $2.4 billion at current prices.