Berkshire Hathaway sheds half of J&J stake

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett's company sold more than half of its stake in Johnson & Johnson in the last three months of 2008.

Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA, BRKB) filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission late Tuesday that provide a snapshot of its holdings at the end of 2008.

Among the most obvious changes was the shedding of about 33.1 million shares of the New Brunswick, N.J. drug and medical products maker as Berkshire reshuffled parts of its portfolio, worth $51.87 billion at the end of the fourth quarter. At the end of the third quarter, the portfolio was worth $69.89 billion.

Buffett also sold about 9%, or about 9.5 million shares, of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble. Berkshire still holds at least 96.3 million shares of the Cincinnati company.

Berkshire also sold its entire stake in Anheuser-Busch Cos. The St. Louis-based brewer was bought by Belgium's InBev in November. Berkshire Hathaway held 13.7 million shares of the brewer on Sept. 30.

Berkshire officials do not typically comment on the company's stock investments beyond what they are legally required to disclose, and spokeswoman Carrie Kizer said no one was immediately available to discuss the filing Tuesday.

During the quarter, Berkshire bought nearly 19.9 million shares of Constellation Energy Group Inc., an electric utility operator based in Baltimore during the period, and added to its stake in Princeton, N.J.-based electric utility NRG Energy, bringing that holding up to 7.2 million shares.

Another new purchase was Nalco Holding, a water treatment and processing equipment and services company headquartered in Naperville, Ill. Berkshire added 8.7 million shares to its portfolio.

Buffett also upped the company's holdings in railroad operator Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. to 70.1 million, from 63.8 million on Sept. 30.

The filing does not differentiate between investments Berkshire makes, investments any of its more than 60 subsidiaries make, or investments Buffett himself makes as chairman and chief executive.

Berkshire revealed several other changes in its holdings, including:

• Sold about 4 million shares of the nation's third-largest oil company, ConocoPhillips, reducing its holdings to 79.9 million shares from 84 million.

• Sold about 5.4 million shares of Minneapolis-based US Bancorp, reducing its holdings to 67.6 million shares from 72.9 million.

• Increased its stake in industrial machinery maker Ingersoll-Rand to 7.8 million shares from 5.6 million.

• Added shares of industrial equipment maker Eaton to 3.2 million shares, from 2.9 million.

• Reduced its holdings of auto dealership chain CarMax, based in Richmond, Va., to 17.6 million shares from 18.4 million.

• Lowered its holdings of health insurer UnitedHealth Group of Minnetonka, Minn., by 79,900 shares, to 6.3 million.

Berkshire subsidiaries include insurance, clothing, furniture, candy companies, restaurants, natural gas and corporate jet firms. Berkshire also has major investments in American Express Co., Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.

Berkshire Class A shares, which closed at $84,000 Tuesday, off $4,140, or 4.7%, have traded in the past 52 weeks at $74,100 to $147,000. Berkshire Class B shares, which gained $90.03 Tuesday to close at $2,769.99, have ranged from $2,147 to $4,858 in the past 52 weeks.