Should you buy the FTSE 100 stocks Warren Buffett sold?

US multi-billionaire Warren Buffett hasn’t made many forays into the London stock market. And indeed, three FTSE 100 stocks that once had a place in his Berkshire Hathaway investment portfolio have long since been disposed of.

Was Buffett right to sell? And if he took another look at these stocks today, would he consider buying them again?

Not so super

Buffett originally bought Tesco (LSE: TSCO) shares in 2006. He added significantly to his stake after the supermarket’s infamous profit warning of 2012 but began selling the following year, having “soured somewhat on the company’s then-management”.

He continued selling through 2014, noting the emergence of three further big negatives: “The company’s market share fell, its margins contracted and accounting problems surfaced”.

What of Tesco today?

Even while reporting to Berkshire’s investors that he had exited the position in the supermarket, Buffett wrote: “The company, we should mention, has hired new management, and we wish them well”. I believe Buffett would applaud the job that chief executive Dave Lewis has done — including dealing swiftly with the past accounting shenanigans — and would have no issue with the management if he were to look again at the business today.

However, I’d say market share and margins remain problematic. Market share has stabilised in the 28%-28.5% area but Tesco once had over a third of the market. There are green shoots in profitability and margins but the company’s targeted ‘sustainable margin’ is well below the level it once was.

I’m not sure Tesco’s reset margin would be sufficiently appealing for Buffett, although personally I still see an attraction in owning shares in the UK’s dominant food retailer. Particularly, as they’re trading at under 200p, compared with their all-time high of nearer 500p.

Brighter prospects

Berkshire bought shares in FTSE 100 pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) in 2007 and sold in the latter half of 2013. The shares were depressed during 2007 (sub-£13) but were at their highest level in more than a decade in 2013 (well above £16).

Today, Glaxo’s shares are still around the price when Buffett sold, but three-and-a-half years on the company’s prospects are a lot brighter. This is because earnings growth is picking up after a number of lean years caused by expiring patents on a number of key drugs. I think Glaxo is a business with Buffett qualities and if it’s valuation had perhaps got a bit ahead of itself when he sold, I don’t think that’s the case today. I see the shares as very buyable at under £17.

Rare and valuable brands

Buffett’s holding in what is now Diageo (LSE: DGE) is almost lost in the mists of time, going back to before Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo in 1997. He bought shares in Guinness — a brand he compared with Coca-Cola — in 1991 but reportedly sold in 1994 after a period of under-performance.

Today, Diageo owns a portfolio of rare and valuable brands and has many other qualities we associate with a classic Buffett business. The shares have recently been hitting all-time highs of close to £23 but I would still rate them a ‘buy’. As the recent bid for Unilever by Buffett-backed Kraft Heinz shows, world-class businesses, with exceptional brands, are truly scarce and highly desirable stocks to own.

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G A Chester has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), GlaxoSmithKline, and Unilever. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Coca-Cola and Diageo. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.