Here's What This 164% Gainer Is Buying

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Every quarter, fund managers have to disclose what they've bought and sold. Their latest moves can shine a bright light on smart stock picks.

Today, let's look at investing giant Chuck Akre, who founded Akre Capital Management in 1989. Akre is a value investor, who licks his lips at times like these, when the market has been down. Here's how he described an ideal kind of investment, in a 2007 letter to shareholders:

"When a high-quality management team is coupled with a high-return business with ample reinvestment opportunities, we have what we have described over the years as a 'compounding machine' -- a business that can compound our capital for long periods of time at an above average rate."

Is Akre really worth paying attention to, though? Well...yeah. According to the folks at GuruFocus.com, Akre gained about 164% in the first decade of this century, compared with just 16% for the S&P 500.

Akre's stock portfolio totaled $643 million in value as of December 31, 2011, with only about 32 holdings. The top three stocks, making up about 35% of the portfolio's total value, were American Tower (NYS: AMT) , MasterCard, and Ross Stores.

Interesting developments
So what does Akre's latest quarterly 13F filing tell us? Here are a few interesting details:

While the number of shares held of American Tower didn't change much, the stock itself did, turning into a real estate investment trust (REIT) at the end of the year. That means it will now have to pay out most of its earnings in dividends.

ExxonMobil (NYS: XOM) appears on the 13F as the only new addition. But the folks at Akre contacted me to say that this reported holding actually isn't part of Akre's main managed funds but rather is held in separate accounts that the money manager also oversees. That's a helpful reminder that while 13Fs are useful guides, they can be misleading.

Akre doubled the number of shares it holds of Hartford Financial (NYS: HIG) , a stock my colleague Dan Caplinger says has it all. Hedge fund manager John Paulson has been advocating splitting the company's property-and-casualty insurance business from its life-insurance business, but even undivided, the company is compelling. The stock has been pummeled over the past year or so by natural disasters, asbestos liabilities, and workers' compensation claims. But Hartford also enjoyed a jump recently, posting expectations-exceeding earnings. Bulls are drawn to its seemingly low valuation and strong expected growth

The only company Akre sold completely out of was Middleburg Financial (NAS: MBRG) . Former Buffett lieutenant David Sokol has invested heavily in the company, leading some to wonder whether it will be his Berkshire Hathaway -- an acorn that grows into a huge oak tree. (It's quite a longshot that anyone would be able to match that level of success, and Sokol was always known for his managerial savvy, not his investing chops.)

We should never blindly copy any investor's moves, no matter how talented the investor. But it can be useful to keep an eye on what smart folks are doing, so 13-F forms can be great places to find intriguing candidates for our portfolios.

Looking for promising investments? Check out our free special report -- "The Stocks Only the Smartest Investors Are Buying"-- and learn which stocks are appealing to Warren Buffett and other great investors.

Editor's note: This updated version of this article reflects comments from Akre representatives that further clarified Akre's 13F filing. The Fool appreciates the clarification and regrets any misleading conclusions in a previous version of this article.

At the time this article was published LongtimeFool contributorSelena Maranjian,whom you can follow on Twitter@SelenaMaranjian, owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway.Click hereto see her holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Mastercard.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of ExxonMobil, Berkshire Hathaway, and American Tower. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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