The Securities and Exchange Commission is examining the disclosures Berkshire Hathaway Inc. made about its $26 billion purchase of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. railroad, said people familiar with the matter.

For a number of weeks, the SEC has been looking at how Berkshire, helmed by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, informed other Burlington shareholders about its offer to buy the company in late October 2009, these people said.

At the time, Berkshire was already a 22.6% holder of Burlington stock. Under a section of securities law generally known as ’13D,’ large holders must promptly alert other stockholders of any ‘plans or proposals’ to control a company. Technically, the disclosure, which must be filed with the SEC, should happen within a few business days after an offer, say some securities lawyers, but the matter has long been open to interpretation.

Mr. Buffett declined to comment. The SEC also declined to comment.

Mr. Buffett amended his securities holdings on Nov. 3, 2009, the day the acquisition was announced. Securities filings show that he first indicated he could pay $100 for each Burlington share to company Chief Executive Matthew K. Rose on the evening of Oct. 23.

The transaction was a highlight of Mr. Buffett’s career and represented his largest-ever deal. Mr. Buffett saw rail transportation as a growing industry over a coming period of higher energy costs. Mr. Buffett declared it an ‘all-in wager on the economic future of the United States.’

The reporting law is intended to help company officers by limiting shareholders’ ability to make a surprise takeover offer. But the adherence to and enforcement of this standard has long fallen in a gray area. Potential buyers are loath to disclose a potential deal, fearing that it could upset their ability to complete the transaction. The SEC, meanwhile, has shown only spotty attention to this area of the law over the years, say securities attorneys.

By Dennis K. Berman

SEC调查巴菲特收购Burlington的信息披露事宜

据知情人士透露,美国证券交易委员会(The Securities and Exchange Commission,简称SEC)正在调查伯克希尔哈撒韦公司(Berkshire Hathaway Inc.)以260亿美元收购Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.铁路公司时在信息披露方面是否得当。

上述人士说,数周来,SEC一直在调查由亿万富翁投资者巴菲特(Warren Buffett)执掌的伯克希尔公司在2009年10月底提出收购Burlington公司时以何种方式告知了后者的其他股东。

当时,伯克希尔公司已经拥有Burlington公司22.6%的股份。根据美国证券法13D条款规定,大股东若有任何控制这家公司的“计划或提议”,必须立即告知其他股东。一些证券行业律师说,从技术层面上讲,欲控制公司的大股东必须在提出报价后的几天内披露相关信息且必须向SEC提交相关文件,但这一问题长期以来一直仍有解释的空间。

巴菲特拒绝置评。SEC也拒绝发表评论。

2009年11月3日,即宣布收购的当日,巴菲特修订了他的证券持有情况。证券文件显示10月23日晚,他首次向Burlington公司首席执行长罗斯(Matthew K. Rose)表示他可以每股100美元的价格收购这家公司。

这一交易是巴菲特事业中的亮点,也是他一生中最大的交易。巴菲特认为在未来能源成本更加高昂的一段时期内,铁路运输将是一个不断成长的行业。巴菲特称此举是对“美国经济前途的全力一搏”。

报告制度旨在通过限制股东进行突然收购的能力以帮助公司的管理人员。但长期以来这一标准在遵守和执行方面还是一片灰色地带。潜在卖家不愿披露即将进行的交易,害怕这会扰乱他们完成交易的能力。证券行业律师说,与此同时,SEC多年来对这部分法律问题的关注有限。

Dennis K. Berman

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