Remember imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and in the case of Warren Buffett, imitation is also a great way to strike it big on stocks in 2017. While Warren Buffett has given very few specific predictions for 2017 stocks, the moves made by his company, Berkshire Hathaway are great indicators of Buffett’s predictions for the New Year.
At the end of 2016, in December to be exact, the stock of Berkshire Hathaway topped $250,000 a share, and Buffett became the American billionaire with the biggest financial gains of 2016 . As 2016 came to a close Warren Buffett made a number of interesting moves in Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio. Amateur and less savvy players on the stock market should take note.
- The Setting Sun
First, Buffett chose to unload or downsize on a number of stocks heading into 2017. Of most relevance was Berkshire Hathaway’s complete withdrawal from Suncor Energy. Suncor Energy was a darling of the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio as recently as 2013. However, after Suncor’s spree of growth through acquisitions began to slow, Buffett’s interest seemed to wane.
Berkshire Hathaway sold all of its holdings in Suncor Energy just head of the September 30, 2016 quarterly close. Between the start of 2016 and September 30th 2016, Berkshire Hathaway sold a total 30 million shares of Suncor Energy .
While this move is instructive for other investors, particularly showing Buffett’s lack of confidence in certain parts of the oil industry, it is important to note that not all major investment firms and brokers are following suit in this case and Berkshire Hathaway did not make the same moves in regards to Phillips 66 (where Buffett actually increased his holding). Two prominent investment management firms have scooped up large numbers of Suncor stock in the previous quarters, giving Suncor an overall “buy” rating from Bloomberg .
- Increased Holdings of Visa
American Express is one of Berkshire Hathaway’s top 5 overall holdings, and Buffett’s company currently holds 151.6 million shares of American Express . Buffett’s confidence in the credit company has a long history, but over the years he has also acquired a presence in other credit card providers, including Visa and Mastercard.
At the end of the 2016 3rd Quarter, Buffett again increased the Berkshire Hathaway’s shares of Visa. This shows a bid of confidence in the U.S. based credit providers, and signals a small diversification of the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio in this particular industry.
Bigger Investment in Banks
Buffett also scored big on banks in 2016, and seems poised to continue those gains into 2017. Wells Fargo based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of Berkshire Hathaway’s biggest investments; the company holds 479.7 shares of Wells Fargo stock . This is the second biggest holding in the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio. Berkshire Hathaway also has a significant holding of U.S. Bancorp, the parent company to U.S. Bank National Association.
However, moving into 2017 Berkshire Hathaway seemed to take more risks in the banking industry. Most significantly was an increase in shares of Bank of New York Mellon . Berkshire Hathaway raised that holding by 3.6% in early 2016, and continued to buy more shares in the 3rd quarter of 2016. Therefore, it might be time to take your money to the bank when it comes to stock options in 2017.
Not Shopping at Wal-Mart
One of Buffett’s decisions in late 2016 was the sale of 24.7 million shares of Wal-Mart. This signals Buffett’s lack of confidence in the big box giant’s potential for 2017 and also reflect Buffett’s new aversion to consumer goods and the brick and mortar stores that deal with these goods . This follows the sale of 99.4% of Berkshire Hathaway’s stake in Proctor & Gamble in the 1st quarter of 2016.
It is a growing trend for physical stores to lose customers to e-commerce businesses such as Amazon. As Amazon becomes better versed in the world of consumer products and groceries, there is less need for gigantic stores like Wal-Mart. Buffett acknowledged this growing difficulty in his April 2016 shareholder meeting . Therefore, it is not a huge surprise that Buffett is quickly moving away from this old standby stock.
Renewed Confidence in Flying
Perhaps Buffett’s most interesting move at the end of 2016 is increasing stakes in the airline industry. Buffett purchased additional shares in not 1, not 2, but 4 airlines by the end of the 3rd quarter. These airlines were American Airlines, Delta, United Continental Holdings, and Southwest.
In the past Buffett referred to airlines as “deathtraps” for investors . The bankruptcies and bad mergers of prior years prompted this comment, but recent growth has Buffett changing his tune in 2017. He has displayed a considerable amount of confidence in the U.S. airline industry and its market potential moving into 2017.
The move to purchase 21.8 million shares of American Airlines and 6.33 million shares of Delta appears to stem from the success of Buffett’s airline holdings in 2015 and 2016, as well as, the falling cost of fuel .
As well, the U.S. airlines appear to be refocusing on service and customer facing initiatives to improve service. Finally, overall Wall Street has shown a lot of love for airline in recent quarters, thus verifying Buffett’s recent moves . These factors amount to huge potential in the industry for 2017.
Overview of Predictions for 2017
Overall, Warren Buffett continued to bet big on some of Berkshire Hathaway’s perennial performers, such as Kraft Heinz, Coca-Cola, American Express, and Phillips 66. Buffett’s company maintains major holdings in each of these companies, and does not appear eager to downsize shares at the start of this New Year. Of course, when it comes to Coca-Cola, Buffett has sworn never to sell his shares.
However, 2017 will not simply be par for the course in Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio. Throughout 2016 there were key sales by the company, including sale of P&G, AT&T, and decrease of Wal-Mart shares, that indicate new direction for investments. Much of this direction points toward previously fickle airlines, which has everyone around Wall Street clattering to see what will happen and many people risking it big to get in on the action.