Buffett Cuts Disney, Nucor Stakes

Friday, February 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — Billionaire investor Warren Buffett slashed his holding company's stake in Walt Disney Co. by 80 percent in late 1999 and early 2000, according to filings with federal regulators that Buffett wanted to keep secret.

Buffett also reduced Berkshire Hathway Inc.'s position in steelmaker Nucor Corp. by 62 percent during the same period, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission released Thursday.

The filings were made public after the SEC refused to allow Buffett to use a procedure he routinely employed in the past to delay disclosure of Berkshire holdings.

``From his point of view, he is a master investor taking huge positions and he doesn't want people to know his positions,'' said Andy Kilpatrick, a a Prudential Securities stockbroker from Birmingham, Ala., and author of the book, ``Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett.''

Berkshire previously held almost 20 million shares of Disney, the world's No. 2 media company, but sold 7.8 million shares during the fourth quarter of 1999 and an additional 8.2 million shares in the first quarter of 2000.

That left the Omaha, Neb., company with 3.9 million Disney shares as of March 31, 2000.

Berkshire sold 1.7 million shares of Nucor, one of the largest U.S. steelmakers, during the last three months of 1999. Another 423,000 Nucor shares were sold by Berkshire during the first three months of 2000.

Berkshire still owned 1.2 million shares of Nucor as of March 31, 2000.

All money managers with holdings of $100 million or more are required to file quarterly reports with the commission that disclose the contents of their portfolios.

Those reports can only be kept confidential if the managers can prove to the SEC that disclosure would cause financial damage.

In the past, Buffett often used the exception to prevent people who did not invest in Berkshire Hathaway from mimicking his investment strategy, said Kilpatrick.

Berkshire shareholders were also kept in the dark. Kilpatrick said Buffett later made the information public when he released Berkshire's annual report.

``He has certainly used this rule to not disclose for decades,'' Kilpatrick said. ``Now the SEC is saying you haven't proved to us that this is going to be a problem for you.''

The SEC's investment management division last August refused Berkshire's request to keep the two filings secret. Berkshire appealed, but his request was denied.

Still pending before the SEC are requests by Berkshire to keep secret portions of its holdings reports for the quarters that ended in June and September of 2000.

Berkshire Hathaway did not immediately return a call seeking comment late Thursday. Buffett is renowned for his reluctance to speak to the media, and his assistant declined comment last week on the SEC filings.

Disney shares rose $1.13 to $32.13 on Thursday, shares of Nucor rose 10 cents to $42.99 and Berkshire Hathaway shares rose $1,500 to $69,400. All are listed on the New York Stock Exchange.