There is a place on the internet where you can get a detailed portfolio snapshot from the world's greatest traders, fund managers, and investors – regularly and for free. The place is US SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission).
How the 13F Holdings Report Looks
According to Section 13(f) of the US Securities Exchange Act of 1934, all big institutional investment managers who exercise investment discretion over $100 million are obliged to file a quarterly form in which they disclose all their portfolio holdings to the SEC. I will not waste your and my time here on the legal details, which you can find in the 13F FAQ on the SEC website.
The good thing for us is that the 13F holdings reports are publicly available in full detail on the SEC website. For every fund or company, the report contains list of securities and for each security there is fair market value and number of shares held. You can take advantage of these reports if you want a hint regarding what the big guys have been doing in the markets.
How to Get the Latest 13F of a Particular Company
Go to SEC EDGAR System company search website and type the company or fund name in the form.
It helps if you know the fund or management company by exact name. This is not always simple. For example, if you search for "Berkshire Hathaway" you get four different companies and three of the names contain "Berkshire Hathaway" (the right one is Berkshire Hathaway Inc).
Fortunately, for the best known managers the fund and company names are widely known and you can easily google them or find them on Wikipedia.
After submitting the search query you get a list of all forms that asset manager has filed (most of them are not really interesting). The right one is form 13F-HR – Quarterly report filed by institutional managers, Holdings.
Getting the Top Funds' Holdings from Media
When the big names report their 13F-HR, it always gets attention from the media, so you can alternatively see at least the largest holdings on CNBC, Bloomberg, and various websites and blogs. You often get them with commentary and analysis of the changes. It is up to you if you want the information already processed, or prefer raw detailed data from the SEC and analyze it yourself.
Don't Just Copy Them Blindly
Even when you are happy with the idea of following someone else's trading strategy, the usefulness of the 13F form for your own trading and decision making is limited by the significant lag between the fund manager making a trade and the trade being reflected in the report.
Form 13F shows holdings at the end of each quarter, but it is published at the SEC website several weeks later – around the middle of the following quarter. Therefore, when your favorite star manager doubles his position in GLD in October, you have a chance to know that only by mid February – and by this time he might have already sold the position. There is a big lag and you should not hope that merely buying the stocks the big smart guys file in their 13F will make you money.
How to Best Use the 13F Filings
Instead, it is better to use the 13F form reports as a learning tool. It is something like reading Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway annual report, which many people say is the best education source in stock picking.
If you follow the 13F filing of your favorite managers regularly (every quarter), you will see how their holdings change from quarter to quarter and how their strategy has changed during the past quarter. For example when you see the positions in oil stocks held by a fund tripled in the past quarter, you can conclude that the manager got quite bullish on oil.
13F Holdings Report vs. Quotes in Media
For famous fund managers, you can complement your research of their 13F holdings with reading or watching their opinions and interviews that some of them have published from time to time.
One advantage of the 13F form against the quotes in media is that the 13F is certainly unbiased, detailed, and its meaning can't be distorted by a journalist who takes one sentence from the context and totally changes its meaning. The 13F holdings report is a useful piece in the mosaic of learning how the successful investors think.