|April 3, 2006
Gates puts CN in his toy chest - Microsoft boss is largest shareholder
|Already the world's richest man, Bill Gates has chugged his way to the top of another list as the largest shareholder in Canadian
National Railway Co.
In a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Microsoft Corp. chairman and founder disclosed that he
holds nearly 30.91 million CN shares through Cascade Investment LLC, or a 5.8-per-cent stake now worth $1.63-billion. That's
enough to place Mr. Gates ahead of major institutional investors such as Fidelity Investments, Barclays PLC, Wellington Management
Co., and the mutual fund arm of Bank of Montreal.
As well, in a $234-million joint holding with his wife, Melinda, the charitable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation owns another 4.42
million shares in Canada's largest railway.
In total, the Gates family's 35.33 million CN shares are worth $1.87-billion, based on their closing price of $52.92 Friday on the
Toronto Stock Exchange. That works out to 6.6 per cent of Montreal-based CN's market value of $28.37-billion.
Mr. Gates has slowly but steadily emerged as the railway's top shareholder by sticking with CN and adding to his portfolio while the
leading institutional investors gradually trimmed their positions in recent years.
It's unclear when he began buying CN stock, but by the fall of 2000, through Cascade, he managed to accumulate 29.7 million shares
(adjusted for subsequent stock splits), securities filings show.
Roger Cameron, a spokesman for the Railway Association of Canada, said Mr. Gates must have recognized early on that the railway
sector has grown beyond its Old Economy roots to join the high-tech age.
"Many people don't fully appreciate the technology in the modern railroad," Mr. Cameron said. "About 40 per cent of the value of a
modern locomotive is in the computer and information systems." He noted that, over the past six years, Mr. Gates has seen gains
from his CN interests, while the value of his Microsoft investment has plunged.
CN's share price has quadrupled during that time, while the software giant's stock has fallen by more than half from its peak. Despite
the technology bubble bursting in 2000, Mr. Gates still owns 980 million Microsoft shares worth $26.7-billion (U.S.).
Mr. Gates has long sought to diversify his holdings by having Cascade invest in a variety of industries, mostly U.S. companies such
as Cox Communications Inc., Republic Services Inc. and investment guru Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Besides CN, Mr.
Gates has a notable Canadian investment in Vancouver-based mining firm Pan American Silver Corp., with a 5-per-cent stake valued
at $98-million (Canadian).
Last month, Mr. Gates continued to lead Forbes magazine's annual ranking of the world's richest people, with his net worth estimated
at $50-billion (U.S.).
"All common shares held by Cascade Investments LLC may be deemed to be beneficially owned by William H. Gates III as the sole
member of Cascade," according to the filing with the SEC. Cascade is based in Kirkland, Wash., near Microsoft's Redmond
The filing said the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's wealthiest charitable trust, "may be deemed to be beneficially owned
by William H. Gates III and Melinda French Gates as co-trustees." The Seattle-based foundation's shareholding alone far exceeds
stock held by CN president and chief executive officer Hunter Harrison, who recently owned 264,204 CN shares, the most of anyone
on the railway's board.
"It's our practice not to comment about individual shareholdings, but we feel that CN has been a successful investment for all of our
shareholders," CN spokesman Mark Hallman said.
Taking stock splits (but not dividends) into account, an investor holding 100 CN shares worth $2,700 (Canadian) back in 1995 would
currently have 600 shares worth $31,752.
CN's profit climbed 24 per cent to a record $1.56-billion last year.
Source: Brent Jang, Globe & Mail – Transportation Reporter