Portfolio Peek: How to invest like the pros

Legal-Brief-LebrechtU.S. stocks were down about 6 percent in the month of January—and that’s after even steeper declines in the first half of the month. When the markets are in turmoil, do you find yourself wondering where the professional investors are putting their money? Here’s how to find out:

Look where the pros look: EDGAR

Edgar is the database maintained by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of all public company filings. This is where you find quarterly reports, annual reports and other announcements material to the companies. This is also where you find information about stock ownership.

Form 3s and 4s

A Form 3 is filed on Edgar when a company first goes public or otherwise becomes subject to the SEC’s reporting requirements. It discloses the stock ownership of the company’s officers, directors and those who own more than 10 percent of the company’s stock.

A Form 4 is filed within 48 hours of a change in the stock ownership of the company’s officers, directors and greater-than-10-percent owners. It discloses the date of the transaction, the type of transaction and the transaction price. By looking at a series of Form 4 filings, you can track the ownership changes of a company’s insiders. Beware, however, that Form 4 filings are not due until two trading days after the transaction has taken place, so by its very nature the information contained therein is stale at the time it was filed.

Schedules 13D and 13G

A Schedule 13D is required to be filed by any person or group within 10 days of acquiring ownership of more than 5 percent of a company’s outstanding voting stock. Any material changes in ownership (more than 1 percent of the outstanding voting stock) require the filing of an amendment. In some circumstances, the person or group may be able to file the shorter Schedule 13G instead of a 13D. Note also that an investor is required to disclose their intentions in the 13D—for example, whether or not the investor is buying the stock purely for investment, or whether they intend to try and take over the company or place a representative on its board of directors.

Boolean search

Using the Edgar database’s Boolean search feature, you can find out what large investors might be active in a particular company’s stock, or in what company’s stock a particular investor is actively investing. For example, knowing that Kirk Kerkorian invests through his private holding company, Tracinda Corporation, I can construct a search for all Form 3s, 4s, 13Ds and 13Gs, and amendments to those filings, for Tracinda between 2010 and 2016. The search string looks like this:

form-type=(13d or 13d/a or 13g or 13g/a or 3 or 4 or 3/a or 4/a) and conformed-name=tracinda

This search returns 60 documents showing me the investment activity for Delta Petroleum Corp, MGM Mirage, MGM Resorts International and Par Petroleum Corp.

A similar search for Warren Buffet’s investment company, Berkshire Hathaway, returns over 1,500 documents. However, if you narrow the time frame to just 2016, it returns only 35 documents, revealing, among other things, Buffet’s activity this year in Phillips 66. In fact, there were nine Form 4 filings between January 6, 2016 and January 29, 2016, all showing purchases by Berkshire Hathaway.

Know the limitations.

As stated above, because of the time lag between the reported transaction and the filing of the respective form, the information is always stale. Further, there are no obligations for investors who own less than 5 percent of the company’s outstanding voting stock, or who are not officers or directors, to report their trading information.

For very prominent investors, like Buffet and Kerkorian, the investment media follow their activity closely and will probably report on it as fast as you can research on it, so a Google search might be just as effective. However, for smaller, less prominent investors, or less publicized companies, using this very simple and free search tool can give you a tremendous amount of insight into where money is being invested.

Brian Lebrecht is a director and shareholder at Clyde Snow & Sessions. He represents company clients primarily in the areas of corporate finance, public company disclosure, and mergers and acquisitions. He also represents individual directors and boards of directors.