Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Buffett sells PetroChina shares again

DARFUR FACTOR? The billionaire investor has sold off shares in the state-owned firm on four occasions in three months as activists target it over China's dealings with Sudan


Investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc sold PetroChina Co (中國石油天然氣) shares for the fourth time in three months, banking an almost seven-fold gain since the US billionaire first invested in China's largest oil producer.

Berkshire sold 45.138 million shares at an average HK$11.26 (US$1.45) each on Sept. 13, a Hong Kong stock exchange filing on Friday showed.

That cut its stake to 7.99 percent of the stock not controlled by the Chinese government from 8.93 percent. The company remains the largest non-government shareholder.

The US$65.5 million from the latest sale brings to US$272 million the value of Buffett's PetroChina sales. Berkshire bought its stake in the Beijing-based producer for less than HK$1.70 a share in April 2003. Activists have urged Buffett and other investors to divest PetroChina holdings over links to Sudan, whose government the US accuses of supporting genocide.

PetroChina is controlled by state-owned China National Petroleum Corp (中石油集團), which has developed Sudanese oil fields since 1996. In Sudan, 200,000 people have died and 2 million more are homeless because of conflict in the African nation's western Darfur region.

The Save Darfur Coalition on Sept. 5 called on funds including Fidelity Investments, Vanguard Group and American Funds to sell their PetroChina stakes. Buffett has said his actions would have no effect on PetroChina, its parent or the Chinese government. Buffett, through spokeswoman Jackie Wilson, declined to comment on his latest sale.

The 77-year-old investor built Berkshire, based in Omaha, Nebraska, over four decades from a failing textile manufacturer into a US$181 billion investment and holding company with businesses ranging from candy making and insurance to leasing of corporate jets.

Berkshire's PetroChina stake, worth about US$3.3 billion at the end of last year, was equal to around 1.1 percent of the company's entire capital. Buffett paid US$488 million for the shares in 2003, according to Berkshire's annual report.

Buffett last reduced his stake on Sept. 6, selling 28 million shares for HK$11.47 apiece. Last month, he sold 92.66 million shares for HK$1.1 billion at an average of HK$11.473. He sold 16.9 million shares in July, booking HK$210 million at an average of HK$12.441 a share.

PetroChina shares climbed 4.8 percent to a record HK$14.74 by the market's close on Friday. The stock has gained 30 percent from the closing level on the day of Buffett's latest sale.

Buffett's next investment may be a 20 percent stake in Bear Stearns Cos, according to an article on Wednesday by the New York Times that cited unidentified sources.

Shares of New York-based Bear Stearns, the fifth-largest US securities firm, jumped 7.7 percent to US$123 that day. Buffett declined to comment on the report.

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