Berkshire Takes Stake in MasterCard

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA, BRKB) took a stake in MasterCard Inc. in the first quarter as a new investment manager took over a portion of the company's $115 billion portfolio.

Berkshire disclosed the holding of 216,000 MasterCard shares in a regulatory filing Monday that shows its U.S. stock positions as of March 31. The stake is valued at about $60 million based on Monday's closing share price.

But Berkshire also said it had omitted some information on its holdings in the filing, an action some investment managers are permitted to take by the Securities and Exchange Commission when they're building or eliminating a position. Such "confidential treatment" prevents others from piggy-backing on their investment ideas.

The addition of MasterCard to the portfolio could be the work of Todd Combs, the former hedge-fund manager who was tapped by Buffett to manage a portfolio of about $2 billion to $3 billion at Berkshire. Combs was selected as the company prepares for the day the 80-year-old Buffett will no longer run Berkshire.

Combs's $400 million hedge fund, called Castle Point, favored investments in financial stocks and held MasterCard shares from 2008 until it shut down at the end of last year.

MasterCard initially rose more than 1% in after-hours trading on Monday; it was up 0.3% to $280.10 about an hour after Berkshire's stake was disclosed.

Berkshire also disclosed a slightly reduced stake in oil producer ConocoPhillips, trimming the holding less than 1% to about 29 million shares.

All told, Berkshire bought $834 million of equity securities in the quarter, and sold just $9 million, according to the company's quarterly earnings report filed earlier this month. The earlier filing doesn't list most of Berkshire's individual stock holdings by name, but does include money spent in overseas stock markets.

Buffett's company, like other firms that control an investment portfolio of more than $100 million, is required to report its U.S. stock holdings 45 days after the end of a given quarter.

News about Berkshire's stock picks has the power to move the shares of the newly disclosed companies as money managers look to mimic the investment success of the "Oracle of Omaha."

But Buffett had long warned that some of the moves in the portfolio are the result of decisions made by Lou Simpson, the investment manager at Berkshire-owned car insurer Geico Corp.

Simpson retired last year, and Berkshire exited from many of its smaller stock positions in the second half of 2010. Castle Point also spent the last few months of last year selling off its positions as Combs prepared to start his new job at Berkshire.

The value of the stocks listed in Monday's filing was $53.6 billion as of March 31, up slightly from the $52.6 billion Berkshire listed as of Dec. 31.