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.

IN PICTURES: 5 "New" Rules For Safe Investing

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.

Carl Icahn
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.

George Soros
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.

Warren Buffett
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.)

Use the Investopedia Stock Simulator to trade the stocks mentioned in this stock analysis, risk free!

Related Articles
  1. Stock Analysis

    How to Find Quality Stocks Amid the Wreckage

    Finding companies with good earnings and hitting on all cylinders in this environment, although possible, is not easy.
  2. Investing News

    What You Can Learn from Carl Icahn's Mistakes

    Carl Icahn has been a stellar performer in the investment world for decades, but following his lead these days could be dangerous.
  3. Stock Analysis

    Analyzing Altria's Return on Equity (ROE) (MO)

    Learn about Altria Group's return on equity (ROE) and analyze net profit margin, asset turnover and financial leverage to determine what is causing its high ROE.
  4. Investing News

    Icahn's Bet on Cheniere Energy: Should You Follow?

    Investing legend Carl Icahn continues to lose money on Cheniere Energy, but he's increasing his stake. Should you follow his lead?
  5. Stock Analysis

    Analyzing Google's Return on Equity (ROE) (GOOGL)

    Learn about Alphabet's return on equity. How has its ROE changed over time, how does it compare to its peers and what factors are driving ROE for the company?
  6. Investing News

    Is Buffett's Bet on Oil Right for You? (XOM, PSX)

    Oil stocks are getting trounced, but Warren Buffett still likes one of them. Should you follow the leader?
  7. Investing News

    Chipotle Served with Criminal Probe

    Chipotle's beat muted expectations and got a clear bill from the CDC, but it now appears that an investigation into its E.coli breakout has expanded.
  8. Stock Analysis

    Analyzing Sprint Corp's Return on Equity (ROE) (S)

    Learn about Sprint's return on equity. Find out why its ROE is negative and how asset turnover and financial leverage impact ROE relative to Sprint's peers.
  9. Stock Analysis

    Why Alphabet is the Best of the 'FANGs' for 2016

    Alphabet just impressed the street, but is it the best FANG stock?
  10. Investing News

    A 2016 Outlook: What January 2009 Can Teach Us

    January 2009 and January 2016 were similar from an investment standpoint, but from a forward-looking perspective, they were very different.
  1. How do dividends affect retained earnings?

    When a company issues a cash dividend to its shareholders, the retained earnings listed on the balance sheet are reduced ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What is the difference between called-up share capital and paid-up share capital?

    The difference between called-up share capital and paid-up share capital is investors have already paid in full for paid-up ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Why would a corporation issue convertible bonds?

    A convertible bond represents a hybrid security that has bond and equity features; this type of bond allows the conversion ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How does additional paid in capital affect retained earnings?

    Both additional paid-in capital and retained earnings are entries under the shareholders' equity section of a company's balance ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What types of capital are not considered share capital?

    The money a business uses to fund operations or growth is called capital, and there are a number of capital sources available. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the difference between issued share capital and subscribed share capital?

    The difference between subscribed share capital and issued share capital is the former relates to the amount of stock for ... Read Full Answer >>
Trading Center