Warren Buffett has renewed a wager on the oil refining industry, disclosing that he has accumulated a 10.8% stake in Phillips 66 valued at roughly $4.47 billion.
The disclosure in a regulatory filing was something of a surprise since Buffett in February 2014 traded nearly two-thirds of his holdings in Phillips for a chemicals business that he folded into a unit of his Berkshire Hathaway company.
Buffett is betting that “oil prices will remain low and Americans will keep filling their gas tanks,” Barron’s said, noting that refiners like Phillips 66 have been benefiting from lower crude prices because they cut costs and boost profit margins.
Like other energy companies, Phillip’s suffered last year when crude prices collapsed, with the share price plunging 32% between September and mid-January. Since then, the stock has gained 34%, helped by strength in refining.
Phillips has also been investing heavily in energy storage, transportation, and processing as CEO Greg Garland aims to significantly reduce the company’s dependency on refining. “All are more profitable activities than refining,” Barron’s said.
At the end of the second quarter, Berkshire didn’t disclose an investment in Phillips 66, prompting The Wall Street Journal to report that it had sold off its position. It had previously reported a 7.5 million-share stake as of March 31.
“Buffett and his deputy investment managers, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, had likely been growing their stake in the company for some time and requested confidential treatment,” the Houston Business Journal reported.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission allows companies to withhold information from the public in order to limit others from copying their investments while they build their portfolio.
Buffett’s energy bets haven’t all panned out, including a 2008 investment in ConocoPhillips when oil was at an all-time high. But analyst Daniel Dreyfus of 3G Capital recently said Phillips 66 could earn $10 a share a few years from now compared to the $6.63 a share expected this year.
“Given the current multiple, Phillips could be a gusher,” Barron’s said.