Tickers in this Article: NYSE:BRK.A, NYSE:BRK.B, BNI, RSG, WMT, WM
Many investors pay attention to Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE:BRK-A) quarterly 13F filing with the SEC in order to see what the Oracle of Omaha is buying and selling. This year, however, people didn't have to wait for the filing as Berkshire's most significant investment was its public announcement last year to acquire railroad Burlington Northern (NYSE:BNI) for nearly $40 billion, including debt.

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Investing to Protect
While the debate as to why Buffett bought the railroad will likely continue for many months if not years, one of Buffett's principal reasons is the ultra-low cost of transport by rail versus any other alternative. On top of that, for the amount of goods transported relative to emissions emitted, railroads are a lot greener than hauling goods by truck. No one knows all the reasons for this elephant deal except for Buffett. Some speculate that the railroad deal was a great way for Buffett to deploy a sizable chunk of Berkshire's cash into a stable, cash-generating business before Buffett eventually has to exit from his role at Berkshire.

By putting the money into the railroad, Buffett protects Berkshire's cash by preventing a new investment officer from investing somewhere else. I don't ascribe too much weight to this reasoning, because Berkshire's insurance operations will continue to generate gobs of cash. (For related reading, check out Warren Buffett: The Road The Riches.)

Playing Defense
During the last quarter of 2009, Berkshire more than doubled its investment in waste management company Republic Services (NYSE:RSG) to 8.3 million shares from 3.7 million in the earlier quarter. Despite the large bet, this stake is only worth some $230 million based on a $28 share price for Republic. It's certainly not tiny, but in Berkshire's world it's hardly significant. Nevertheless, Buffett doesn't invest a dime if he doesn't see value. Because Republic is in the waste-management business, Buffett clearly likes the boring, stable yet profitable, aspect of garbage hauling. And Republic is the second largest company of its kind after giant Waste Management (NYSE:WM).

In the second half of 2009, Berkshire doubled its investment in Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT). It now holds nearly 38 million shares in the low cost retailer and that investment is over $2 billion, a very strong bet for Berkshire. Wal-Mart's ultra low prices are an obvious appeal in this economy. However, the company is undergoing a major transformation lead by a major store renovation program. I've visited some the newly remodeled stores and they remind me more of the upscale Target than the old Wal-Mart. In addition, the company's strong advertising campaign of: "Save Money. Live Better" is having a profound impact on today's consumer. The company recently reported fourth-quarter profit that was up 22%.

Cheap Like Its Products
At 15 times earnings, Wal-Mart is attractively priced considering its favorable market position in this leaner economy. And for a company like Berkshire, the valuation gives the company a chance to deploy lots of capital with a good prospect of market-beating returns over the next several years. (For related reading, check out Warren Buffett's Bear Market Maneuvers.)

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