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UPDATE 1-Buffett's Berkshire buys Citigroup and several other stocks, slashes Verizon

·3 min read
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(Adds new investments throughout, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger comments from Berkshire annual meeting, byline)

By Jonathan Stempel

May 16 (Reuters) - Berkshire Hathaway Inc on Monday said it added new investments in Citigroup Inc and several other companies in the first quarter, as Warren Buffett's conglomerate took advantage of volatile stock markets to invest $51.1 billion that had largely been sitting in cash.

In a regulatory filing describing its U.S.-listed equity investments as of March 31, Berkshire reported new stakes in Ally Financial Inc, chemicals and specialty materials company Celanese Corp, insurance holding company Markel Corp, drug distributor McKesson Corp and Paramount Global, formerly known as ViacomCBS.

Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire said it sold nearly all of an $8.3 billion stake in Verizon Communications Inc that it had amassed in late 2020.

Berkshire also finally exited Wells Fargo & Co, a 33-year-old investment that Buffett soured on after finding it too slow to address revelations that employees had mistreated customers, including by opening unwanted accounts.

Buffett's company ended March with $106.3 billion of cash and equivalents, down from a near-record $146.7 billion three months earlier, largely reflecting the new investments.

These included previously disclosed stakes in Chevron Corp and Occidental Petroleum Corp, computer and printer maker HP Inc and video game maker Activision Blizzard Inc, the latter an arbitrage bet.

Stock sales totaled $9.7 billion, and also included drugmakers AbbVie Inc and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co .

Citigroup, where Berkshire invested nearly $3 billion, has embarked on a multiyear plan to boost performance and a share price that in recent years has lagged larger rivals JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America Corp, the latter a major Berkshire investment.

Some investors have described Markel as a small-scale version of Berkshire, and Buffett in March committed $11.6 billion to buy another insurance holding company fitting that description, Alleghany Corp.

Berkshire also owns several companies specializing in Celanese's sectors.

Monday's filing does not say which investments were made by Buffett and his portfolio managers Todd Combs and Ted Weschler.

Most large Berkshire investments are Buffett's. Stock prices often rise after Berkshire reveals new stakes because investors view the investments as a stamp of approval.

At Berkshire's annual meeting on April 30, Buffett said investors were too focused on flashy stocks, causing markets at times to resemble a casino, allowing him to focus on stocks that Berkshire understands and which add value.

Analysts have also viewed Chevron and Occidental as a way for Berkshire to benefit from rising oil prices following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"I wish the rest of the world worked as well as our big oil companies," Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger said at the annual meeting.

More than three-fourths of Berkshire's $390.5 billion equity portfolio on March 31 was in American Express Co, Apple Inc, Bank of America, Chevron, Coca-Cola Co and Kraft Heinz Co. Berkshire owned 26.6% of Kraft Heinz. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Reese, Bernard Orr)