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An Analysis Of Berkshire Hathaway’s Energy Investment Skills

Berkshire Hathaway’s year-end 2014 Form 13F showed the liquidation of the approximately $4 billion Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) position. This sale has generated considerable discussion. Absent data on Berkshire’s Energy Sector record, the sale is uninformative; we provide this data here.

Investors typically treat all ideas of excellent managers with equal deference. This is usually a mistake – even the most skilled managers are seldom equally skilled in all areas. However, Berkshire Hathaway has excellent track record of security selection in the energy sector. Investors should take note of this particular sale.

Berkshire Hathaway’s Security Selection

The risk-adjusted return of Berkshire’s long equity portfolio, estimated from the firm’s 13F filings, is spectacular. We estimate an approximately 60% cumulative return from security selection (stock picking) over the past 10 years. This is AReturn, a metric of security selection performance – the estimated annual percentage return the portfolio would have generated if markets were flat. Berkshire Hathaway’s cumulative AReturn is shown in blue in the chart below. For comparison, the group of U.S. Hedge Funds generated slightly negative long security selection returns over the period (in gray):

Berkshire Hathaway 1

Berkshire Hathaway’s Energy Security Selection

Berkshire Hathaway’s risk-adjusted return in the Energy Sector is also excellent, though less consistent. If markets were flat over the past 10 years, the long energy portfolio would have returned over 125% compared to a greater than 10% loss for the average hedge fund:

Berkshire Hathaway

All five energy investments over the past 10 years generated positive residual returns un-attributable to the market. These are the sources of the risk-adjusted returns from security selection:

Return (%)
Symbol Name Total Factor Residual
COP ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) 94.54 88.12 6.42
PSX Phillips 66 40.33 13.03 27.29
PTR PetroChina Co. Ltd. Sponsored ADR 187.96 104.42 83.54
SU Suncor Energy Inc. (NYSE:SU) 106.19 94.98 11.21
XOM Exxon Mobil Corporation 60.52 50.65 9.86

Stock picking performance persists. Therefore, the sale of XOM by Berkshire is indeed a negative indicator.

Berkshire Hathaway’s Energy Market Timing

While Berkshire shows significant skill in selecting energy stocks, it does not appear skilled in timing the overall energy market. There is no statistically significant relationship between Berkshire’s exposure to the Energy Factor and the factor’s subsequent return:

Berkshire Hathaway

Therefore, Berkshire’s sale of XOM is not a bearish indicator for the overall energy sector.


By AlphaBetaWorks Insights



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