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BENGALURU - Berkshire Hathaway Inc bought 75 million additional Apple Inc shares in the first three months of the year, CEO Warren Buffett told CNBC on Thursday, aggressively ramping up its bets on the iPhone maker.

Buffett’s Apple commitment over the past two years has surprised many, given his historical aversion to companies associated with the technology sector.

Berkshire’s initial investment in Apple was small, suggesting it was made by one of Buffett’s investment deputies, but with the latest stake purchase, it has grown to a solid 240.3 million shares worth $42.5 billion.

“If you look at Apple, I think it earns almost twice as much as the second most profitable company in the United States,” CNBC quoted Buffett as saying.

The billionaire investor recently sold out of an unsuccessful investment in International Business Machines Corp, at the same time he was buying Apple.

Berkshire said in February Berkshire’s Apple stake grew by about 23% since the end of September to roughly 165.3 million shares.

Buffett has praised Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook and suggested he views Apple more as a consumer company, despite its Silicon Valley pedigree.

However, there may also be another reason for the investment: Berkshire’s cash position.

Berkshire has gone more than two years since a major acquisition, and Buffett said in his annual letter that he wants one or more “huge” non-insurance acquisitions to help him reduce Berkshire’s $116 billion in cash and equivalents.

Buying Apple accomplishes that, even though Buffett would rather buy whole companies than their stocks.

Berkshire typically discloses its largest common stock holdings and percentage stakes in its quarterly and annual reports. The report for the first quarter is scheduled for release on Saturday morning, just before Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting in its Omaha, Nebraska, hometown.

Apple reported $61.1 billion in revenue for the March quarter, up from $52.9 billion last year, and promised $100 billion in additional stock buyback.

Berkshire Hathaway and Apple were not available for comment outside regular business hours.

Up to Thursday’s close, Apple stock had risen more than 5% since Berkshire disclosed on 14 February that it had raised its stake in the Cupertino, California-based company.

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- REUTERS