Berkshire continues to heart newspapers…

Late yesterday, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) filed this interesting 13F disclosing a position of 1.65 million shares of Lee Enterprises (LEE), publishers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Since pretty much everything that Warren Buffett says or does is dissected with great care, it didn’t take long for both Bloomberg (first) and then the WSJ to pick up the filing. Nor did it take long — the filing was made at 4:03 pm yesterday — for stock in Lee to climb sharply in after-hours trading.

We’ve been very interested with the whole process of Confidential Treatment requests ever since we learned about this in this WSJ article late last year. What fascinated us is that there’s a whole cottage industry (ok, a slight overstatement) of people who spend lots of time parsing 13Fs for hidden signals on what the so-called best and brightest are investing in, when in fact, many of those best and brightest are making active use of the Confidential Treatment exemption to keep the positions they do have to disclose away from prying eyes. There’s also the fact that 13Fs are filed 45 days after the end of the quarter and only include long positions, making it even harder to glean any truly useful information from the filings.

What interested us, in particular, about yesterday’s filing is that the last time that the SEC rejected one of Berkshire’s Confidential Treatment requests was all the way back in 2006, when Berkshire sought Confidential Treatment for its investment in Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). Just to be clear, Berkshire actually doesn’t file as many Confidential Treatment requests as some other large investors do. As the WSJ article pointed out, its last request was last year, when it was building a position in IBM (IBM).

An SEC spokesman was unable to provide us with stats on either the top seekers of Confidential Treatment or the number of times these requests are rejected, but a quick skim of 13Fs shows that rejections are pretty rare.

Having cut our respective teeth at various newspapers, the folks here at footnoted are always happy to see someone, especially someone as prominent as Warren Buffett, take an active interest in what far too many have declared a rapidly dying field. All you have to do is search for Buffett and newspapers and you’ll find lots of articles documenting his interest, including this one by former Washington Post media critic (and current Daily Beast journalist) Howard Kurtz.

Perhaps if all the people who follow the Oracle of Omaha so closely take a similar interest in newspaper stocks, there may be hope yet.

Image source: Newspaper stand via Shutterstock


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