Cutting Berkshire Helps Sequoia Fund
Sequoia Fund Inc. (SEQUX), recommended by Warren Buffett when it opened, beat the U.S. stock market over the past four decades, in part because a large piece of the fund was invested in his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.A)(BRK.B).
Heeding Buffett’s warning that Berkshire wouldn’t grow as fast as it once did, the managers of the $4.7 billion fund cut their reliance on the stock almost in half in 2010 and put the cash into companies such as Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. (VRX), a drug distributor. Sequoia is beating the pack again this year, gaining 14 percent through Dec. 27, better than 99 percent of value stock funds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“They have the kind of portfolio Buffett might have if he ran a mutual fund,” Steven Roge, a portfolio manager with Bohemia, New York-based R.W. Roge & Co., said in a telephone interview. His firm, which oversees $200 million, holds shares in Sequoia.
Like Buffett, the managers of Sequoia look for high-quality companies with competitive advantages that the fund can hang onto for long periods. While the scale of Buffett’s $68 billion stock portfolio forces him to buy mainly the largest companies, Sequoia is small enough to benefit from investments in mid-sized businesses.
The fund beat 97 percent of peers over the past 10 and 15 years, according to Morningstar Inc. (MORN) in Chicago. From 1970 to 2010 the fund returned 14 percent annually, compared with 11 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. In its best year, 1976, the fund gained 72 percent, according to “The Warren Buffett Way” (John Wiley & Sons, 1994) by Robert Hagstrom. It lost 27 percent in its worst year, 2008.
Sequoia Fund was co-founded in 1970 by Richard Cunniff and William Ruane, a friend of Buffett since both studied under legendary value investor Benjamin Graham at Columbia University in 1951. When Buffett shut down his investment partnership in 1969 to concentrate on Berkshire Hathaway, he recommended that his clients invest with Ruane.
“Bill formed Sequoia Fund to take care of the smaller investor,” Buffett wrote in an e-mailed response to questions. “A significant percentage of my former partners went with him and many of those still living have their holdings of Sequoia.”
Ruane ran an unconventional fund, closing Sequoia to new investors in 1982 because he didn’t want its size to limit what the fund could buy. It opened again in 2008, three years after Ruane’s death.
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