- Associated Press - Monday, November 14, 2011

OMAHA, NEB. (AP) - Warren Buffett said Monday that his company has spent $10.7 billion to buy more than 5 percent of IBM’s stock this year, a surprising move by the billionaire investor who has long shied away from investing in high technology companies.

Berkshire Hathaway also revealed several other new investments made during the turmoil of the third quarter. Besides the new IBM investment, Berkshire added much smaller stakes in Intel Corp., DirecTV, General Dynamics Corp. and CVS Caremark Corp.

Most of the details emerged from the quarterly update Berkshire filed with regulators on its $59 billion U.S. stock portfolio. Buffett disclosed some details in interviews earlier in the day.

Monday’s filing doesn’t offer a full picture of Berkshire’s holdings, however, because the Securities and Exchange Commission allowed the Omaha-based company to keep some of its investments confidential.

Buffett has long refused to invest in high-tech companies because he has said it’s too difficult to predict which technology businesses will prosper in the long run.

But he said he recently realized his view of IBM was wrong based on what he read in the company’s annual reports and what he learned by talking to information-technology departments at Berkshire subsidiaries. He said he should have realized years sooner that hardware is no longer the heart of IBM’s business.

“Now they’re very much a services company, and they’re very intertwined with their customers,” Buffett said. And he said IBM’s customers are reluctant to change once they start working with IBM.

So Berkshire has bought about 64 million shares since March, or about 5.5 percent of IBM. Buffett says he believes IBM has a sound plan for the future.

Andy Kilpatrick, the stockbroker-author of “Of Permanent Value, the Story of Warren Buffett,” said it’s surprising to see Buffett invest in a high-tech company, but the investment appears to be an example of Buffett spotting something in plain sight that he had previously overlooked.

“I don’t think it moves things very far from what he’s always done,” Kilpatrick said.

IBM joins several other American business icons in Berkshire’s stock portfolio. Buffett’s company already holds stakes in Coca-Cola Co., American Express Co., Wells Fargo & Co., among others.

IBM officials declined to comment Monday on Buffett’s investment.

International Business Machines Corp., which marked its 100-year anniversary in June, has proven resilient even in a downturn because of hard decisions it made in the 1990s, when it tapped an outsider as CEO to help with a turnaround.

At the time, IBM was slipping with the rise of cheap microprocessors and rapid changes in the industry. Although it helped make the personal computer a mainstream product, it quickly found itself outmatched in a market it helped create. PCs also began to perform many of the functions of mainframes computer, throwing IBM’s main moneymaking business into disarray.

The company decided then to focus on the high-margin areas of software and technology services and move away from computer hardware. That intensified with IBM’s $3.5 billion purchase of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ consulting business in 2002 and the sale of its PC business to Lenovo for $1.75 billion in 2005. Today, IBM is the world’s biggest technology services provider.

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