Buffett cuts back PetroChina stake

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Warren Buffett has trimmed his stake in PetroChina, the country’s second-largest oil company, raising $27m and triggering speculation that the legendary investor was taking a more bearish stance on China.

The sale of less than 1 per cent of Berkshire Hathaway’s holding in PetroChina’s Hong Kong-listed shares comes two months after Mr Buffett had rebuffed human rights groups’ demands for a complete exit from the state-controlled company.

Mr Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway, which retains a stake of nearly 11 per cent in PetroChina’s shares not owned by the state, declined to comment on the disposal, which was revealed in a Hong Kong regulatory filing yesterday.

However, analysts said that the sale by the “Sage of Omaha”- executed while PetroChina’s shares were near their all-time high earlier this month - might signal Mr Buffett’s belief that the current bull run in China-related shares was near its end.

One Hong Kong-based analyst said news of Mr Buffett’s divestment could affect sentiment in H-shares - Hong Kong-traded shares of Chinese companies - which have risen more than 50 per cent over the past six months.

In May, at the annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway, Mr Buffett came under fire from human rights group for his stake in PetroChina.

The campaigners tabled a proposal calling for the divestment of the holding because of the Chinese oil group’s state-controlled parent’s links to the Sudanese government, which has been accused of genocide in Darfur.

However, more than 98 per cent of shareholders backed Mr Buffett’s rejection of the proposal.

At the meeting, Mr Buffett argued that PetroChina itself was not involved in Sudan.

According to the filing, Berkshire Hathaway sold 16.9m H shares in PetroChina at an average price of HK$12.4 per share on July 12, reducing its holding in the company’s free-float from 11.05 per cent to 10.96 per cent.

Berkshire Hathaway’s stake in PetroChina’s total share capital is about 1.3 per cent once the 90 per cent of PetroChina’s shares in the hands of Beijing-controlled entities is factored in.

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