Buffett and Woodford Agree on This One!


LONDON -- Great investors don't always see eye to eye about companies. Take leading FTSE 100 supermarket Tesco. City super-investor Neil Woodford has sold all his shares in Tesco this year, while U.S. investing legend Warren Buffett has been a buyer. (You can read the full story on Buffett's supermarket shop in this free Motley Fool report: "One UK Share Warren Buffett Loves".)

Woodford and Buffett may disagree about Tesco, but a company they share a passion for is French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi (NYS: SNY) .

Why have these two great investors, who invest very selectively outside their own back yards -- and who have a whole kaleidoscope of shares to choose from in the world beyond -- ended up landing on the same drugs group in the heart of the eurozone?

The Sanofi fan club
Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYS: BRK.A) (NYS: BRK.B) first bought shares in Sanofi in 2006 and increased its holding each year between 2007 and 2010. According to a letter from January 2011, "Berkshire believes that Sanofi ... possesses a significant economic franchise and potential for continued growth in earnings and earnings per share."

Woodford joined the fan club in 2011, paying about 54 euros a share for his new Sanofi holding, according to my Foolish colleague Maynard Paton -- a price at which the shares can still be bought today.

A standout quality
Like all big pharma groups, Sanofi is currently dealing with patent expirations on some of its blockbuster drugs. In fact, 2012 is set to be a trough year, as generic competition to blood-thinner Plavix and hypertension drug Avapro in the U.S. is expected to make a 12% to 15% dent in Sanofi's global total profit. Yet like other big pharma groups, Sanofi has been preparing for the future by overhauling its core drugs operation and diversifying into areas where products are less vulnerable to patent expiry, such as consumer health care.

You might ask, "Isn't this what GlaxoSmithKline (NYS: GSK) and everyone else is doing?" Or, "Why does Buffett see a 'significant economic franchise' in Sanofi?"

Part of the answer is that Buffett and Woodford actually hold GSK (and several other pharma groups between them), but Sanofi has one big standout quality: It is the leader in emerging markets. Sanofi's 31% of sales from emerging markets is streets ahead of other big drugs groups, including the U.S. majors and the U.K.'s GSK and AstraZeneca (NYS: AZN) , where emerging-market sales are running at 19%.

Taking stock
On just more than nine times forecast 2012 earnings and a forward dividend yield of 5%, it's not hard to see why Neil Woodford, despite already having big stakes in GSK and AstraZeneca, was tempted to pump more money into the drugs sector by investing in Sanofi.

Sanofi has caught my eye, but if you're interested in learning about which other sectors and shares Mr. Woodford has placed big bets on, you'll enjoy this free Motley Fool report: "8 Shares Held By Britain's Super Investor."

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At the time thisarticle was published G A Chester does not hold shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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