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Short selling is seen for many reasons, but universally traders tend to track short selling to track the biggest changes in the short interest twice each month.  Whether these are hedges, forward delivery trades, or just raw short sales, the trend is generally viewed as a bet against the overall market.  During the month of February, we saw short selling increase at both the NASDAQ and at the NYSE.  And it turns out that the short selling increased against more Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-B, BRK-A) stocks than those short positions which were lightened up.

The total NYSE short interest rose by 3.78% to 14,002,613,200 shares versus 13,492,652,518 shares in the period ending January 29, 2010.  NASDAQ short interest was up 4.75% to 7,019,657,092 shares versus 6,701,137,021 shares ending January 29, 2010.  It turns out that the best against Warren Buffett’s core holdings were frequently far higher than these short interest averages.

  • Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK-A) was 14,752 shares, up 98% from 7,452 shares;
  • Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK-B) was 29,538,177 shares, up 101% from 14,698,348 shares.

The bets against Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway were likely left over arbitrage plays or more importantly were index addition bets that the stock would drop after it was added to the S&P 500 index.  We took a look here at the few first that actually saw a decrease in the short selling.  These are Buffett stocks which saw traders making lower bets against his portfolio stocks as follows:

  • Gannett Co. (NYSE: GCI) was a smaller position as he cut the stock holdings but short sellers couldn’t take the gains in the stock.  Short interest was 29,577,885, down by -3.6% vs 30,669,973
  • Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) is a huge warrant and preferred position but not a common stock.  Turns out that short sellers lightened up the bets against Blankfein and friends.  This was 8,283,268 shares, down by -4.8% vs. 8,696,610
  • Ingersoll-Rand (NYSE: IR) 10,222,455, -7.5% vs. 11,046,783
  • Lowe’s Companies (NYSE: LOW) 13,467,676, down by -7.8% vs. 14,611,297
  • Moody’s (NYSE: MCO) was again decreased by Buffett, but short sellers lightened up here despite its changed model.  This was listed as 31,252,489, down -4.8% vs. 32,815,912
  • Nalco Holding (NYSE: NLC) 2,861,748 was down -27% vs. 3,918,130
  • Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) was down 3% at 8,115,812 vs 8,364,309
  • Sanofi Aventis (NYSE: SNY) 1,417,016 down -27.8% vs 1,962,986
  • Sun Trust Bank (NYSE: STI) is a decreased position of Buffett’s and that was shorted less at 31,858,590, down -5.5% vs 33,707,880.
  • Torchmark Corp. (NYSE: TMK) 4,312,561 was -2.3% vs. 4,414,462
  • Wellpoint Inc. (NYSE: WLP) is one that Buffett has steadily been selling, but short sellers lightened up their bets against this stock. This was 6,306,073 shares short, down by -19.2% vs 7,800,022

This is the group where we saw increased bets against Buffett’s stocks.  Some positions were changed by Buffett as well, and some bets were with Buffett’s directional change while others were against it.  This large list is as follows:

  • Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) 344,401,459 was up 5.4% from 326,896,224
  • Becton Dickinson & Co. (NYSE: BDX) was one Buffett raised his position in but shorts increased their bets against Buffett’s bet.  This was 3,598,302 shares, up 12.6% from 3,195,720
  • Carmax Inc. (NYSE: KMX) was a decreased position for Buffett and short sellers increased their bets against it.  This was 14,238,109 shares short, up 6.6% vs. 13,361,299
  • Coca Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) 17,941,700, up 15.9% from 15,469,000
  • Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) 48,314,070, up 13.3% from 42,632,950
  • ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) was cut in Buffett holdings and it saw a rise in short selling to 15,031,200, up 18.2% from 12,714,800  shares.
  • Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ: COST) 11,281,400 up 11.14% vs. 10,150,700
  • Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) was slightly cut by Buffett and shorts increased their anti-oil bets to 80,161,907 shares, up 16.7% from 68,697,731
  • General Electric Corp. (NYSE: GE) 74,962,422, up 13.2% from 66,249,225
  • GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) 3,676,415, up 11.2% from 3,306,299
  • Home Depot Inc. (NYSE: HD) 33,721,859, up 17.3% from 28,737,051
  • Iron Mountain (NYSE: IRM) was a stock Buffett raised his stake in, yet shorts bet against it with 15,134,029 shares short.  That is up 6.7% from 14,180,881 shares.
  • Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) was another stock Buffett cut his stake in and the shorts increased their bets against it; 18,650,524 shares, up 13.7% from 16,408,634
  • Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT) 52,715,903, up 34.4% from 39,227,946
  • M&T Bank Corp. (NYSE: MTB) 14,557,744, up 0.1% from 14,549,915
  • Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) was a smaller Buffett position, and there was a big short interest gain as a bet against P&G.  This was 29,450,930 shares, up 21.2% from 24,302,413 shares.
  • Republic Services Inc. (NYSE: RSG) was a raised holding of Buffett in his chase after Bill Gates, but shorts bet harder against the garbage men here.  This was 1,806,220 shares short, a 8.3% gain versus 1,667,190.
  • Travelers Cos (NYSE: TRV) 6,997,575, up 17.6% versus 5,948,204… but just tiny Buffett holding.
  • USG Corp. (NYSE: USG) 14,808,631, up 4.9% versus 14,122,777 shares
  • United Health Group (NYSE: UNH) was a decreased holding again from Buffett and shorts increased their short selling; 16,939,025 shares, up 39.2% from 12,169,639
  • United Parcel Service (NYSE: UPS) 11,663,165, up 4.5% vs. 11,159,600
  • Washington Post (NYSE: WPO) 178,636, up 5.9% from 168,638
  • Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) was an increased position again for Buffett, but short sellers increased their bets against the company.  It saw 49,549,878 shares short, up 12.5% from 44,048,977

Then there is the group that was effectively unchanged in short sales from the whole market in Buffett holdings.  These are the stock holdings which saw an increase or decrease of 2.0% or less.  These are as follows:

  • American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP) 13,443,984, up 1.4% from 13,254,289
  • Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) 21,200,285, up 0.4% from 21,119,310
  • Wesco Financial Corp. (NYSE: WSC) 5,008,953, down only -0.6% vs. 5,039,052

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