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November 18, 2009

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Buffett increases Exxon stake in closely watched stock filing

BILLIONAIRE Warren Buffett's company bought an almost US$60 million stake in Exxon Mobil Corp, and cut its holdings in oil rival ConocoPhillips during the third quarter.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc also significantly increased its holdings in Wal-Mart Stores Inc in the three months ended September 30.

Berkshire, based in Omaha, Nebraska, disclosed the changes to its US$59.7 billion American stock portfolio in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Monday.

During the quarter, Berkshire Hathaway bought nearly 855,000 shares of Exxon Mobil. Its stake in ConocoPhillips was cut from more than 64 million shares at the end of June to more than 57 million shares, valued at nearly US$2.6 billion.

Berkshire Hathaway's stake in Wal-Mart, valued at US$1.65 billion, stood at 33.6 million shares at the end of September, up from nearly 20 million at the end of June.

A separate filing on Monday by the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation showed it raised its stake in Berkshire Hathaway to more than 1.6 million Class B shares, worth US$3,431 apiece, from 1.25 million.

Those shares are to be split 50-to-1 under Berkshire's November 3 deal to acquire Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp, the nation's second-largest railroad. Berkshire has agreed to pay US$26.3 billion in cash and stock for the 77.4 percent of the company it doesn't now own, valuing the entire firm at US$34 billion.

Buffett has been a key donor to the Gates Foundation, with plans to give 10 million B shares in a series of annual gifts. Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp co-founder, is a friend of Buffett's.

Another filing on Monday shows financier George Soros' company, Soros Fund Management LLC, increased its stake in Berkshire to 10 Class A shares - valued at around US$103,000 apiece - from the previous four. Soros also acquired 200 Class B shares.

Berkshire's holdings reports are closely followed because of Buffett's reputation as a savvy investor able to spot stock market bargains and then sell holdings that get overpriced.

The filing does not differentiate between investments Berkshire makes, investments any of its subsidiaries make, or investments Buffett makes.


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