With the deadline for the market's biggest players to disclose having come and gone for most of them, the reports of "who bought what" are coming down the pipe pretty quickly. And why not? If it's good enough for a John Paulson or a Warren Buffett, it's certainly something a smaller individual investor may want to mirror.
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All well and good. However, there's an equally important flipside to that coin, as these legendary investors are selling as much as they're buying - and that information can be just as telling. With that as the backdrop, here are some of the fourth quarter's most important liquidations by the market's major names.
One has to wonder if Ichan regrets letting go of most of Cadence Design Systems (Nasdaq:CDNS) position late last year. The stock's up nearly 25% in 2011, with no end in sight. Of course, Icahn still walked away with a profit.
Investors shouldn't necessarily worry about his decision to dump Cadence. It may have simply remained a bit of a misfit for Icahn, who seeks to buy companies with great potential but a poorly run operation. Cadence Design Systems is a pretty well-oiled machine, and one of the top tier software companies in terms of turning sales into profits. With little value left to unlock by taking over it, he likely decided just to let go. So, the sale can be seen as a positive sign in this case.
The decision to shed furniture and fixture maker Masco Corp. (NYSE:MAS), however, may have been a different story. He only sold about 16% of his total position. As it turns out, Masco posted worse-than-expected number for last quarter, losing 8 cents per share. Worse, the company doesn't see any relief on the horizon.
Though it may seem too little, too late to follow Icahn's lead on MAS, it's not.
Soros is always pretty active, on the buy side as well as the sell side. Monsanto (NYSE:MON), however, was one of the biggest bootings last quarter; Soros cut his MON exposure in half. It's a big deal because it had been one of his bigger holdings, making up around 6% of his portfolio going into the fourth quarter of 2010.
Not that he's infallible, but Soros is rather savvy when it comes to commodities, and he's even stated publicly that he expects commodity prices to stay firm for a couple of years. Moreover, the seed and ag-chemical group is supposed to be on the mend with or without a commodity boom. Yet, he's selling. He may well know something the rest of the market doesn't, or maybe it's just instinct. Either way, it's a surprising move that shouldn't be dismissed.
The Oracle of Omaha closed out several positions in Q4 of 2010, but two of them really stood out: Home Depot (NYSE:HD), and American Express (NYSE:AXP).
As for Home Depot, there's little lead left for investors left to follow now, as the entire position (2.7 million shares) was liquidated. American Express, on the other hand, may be posed to dole out more misery. Though Buffett sold 103 million shares of the financial services company, he's still sitting on 48 million. It's unlikely he'd sell off that much of a company though, and not be thinking about dumping the rest - he doesn't really do small positions.
Take the Hint
Though even these legendary investors can be wrong from time to time, they're all billionaires for a reason. Their sell activity helped them reach that status just as much as their buying activity did, and you can poach their defensive moves just as easily as you can borrow their offensive ones. (For related reading, also take a look at Rules That Warren Buffett Lives By.)
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