Monthly Archives: December 2015

$229 million Kraft Heinz Expansion Saves the Bacon in Missouri

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The city of Kirksville, Missouri, and the Kraft Heinz Company are nearing the completion of a $229 million financing agreement that will see the company adding as many as 69 jobs and will preserve the existing 463 full-time jobs.

Kraft Heinz had originally planned to lay-off 279 workers and close its bacon producing facility.

Under the terms of the agreement, the city of Kirksville will issue Chapter 100 bonds that allows cities or counties to purchase or construct certain types of projects with bond proceeds and to lease or sell the project to a company. These “industrial development” bonds may be issued either as a “revenue” bond or a general obligation bond.

Eligible projects include purchase, construction, extension and improvement of warehouses, distribution facilities, and industrial plants.

Property Tax Abatement

Under Missouri law, upon the approval of the city/county issuer, it may be possible to exempt/abate most of the real and/or personal property tax of new real estate improvements and new machinery financed by a Chapter 100 bond. To enact this procedure, the city/county must own the assets financed by the bonds and an eligible company would lease the assets from the city/county for the term of the bonds. The amount and term of abatement/exemption depends on a negotiation with the city/county issuer, as they have the discretion to abate any portion of the property taxes.

The property tax is exempt by virtue of public ownership, however, the city/county may require that a portion of the payments otherwise due will be paid in the form of a payment in lieu of tax.

In this case, the city of Kirksville will own the property, eliminating property taxes for Kraft Heinz over a 10-year period.

Kraft Heinz will pay PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) to the local taxing districts. The amount will be 50-percent of the revenues that will be generated from the expansion project.

The tax abatement period will begin in 2017 and end in 2026.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Tax Credit Extension for Wind and Solar Boosts Berkshire’s Renewable Energy Investments

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Both the United States House and Senate agreed to grant extensions to the 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC) for the production of solar energy and the 2.3-cent-per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit (PTC) for the production of wind power.

The extensions will fuel the growth of both wind and solar, as the industries gain tax credits through 2020.

The credits were originally scheduled to expire for any projects beginning construction after December 31, 2014.The credits have now been extended to construction starting before January 1, 2020, with gradual phase-outs.

A Big Boost for Berkshire

With its huge commitment to wind power in Iowa, Nebraska and Texas, Berkshire Hathaway is reportedly the largest user of these energy investment tax credits.

In October, Berkshire Hathaway Energy borrowed $275 Million for its Jumbo Road wind farm in Texas, and Berkshire Hathaway’s MidAmerican Energy Company is currently building the tallest land-based wind turbine ever built in the United States at its wind farm in Adams County, Iowa.

Meeting Lower Carbon Goals

In August 2015, President Obama and the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan, which set aggressive goals for reducing carbon pollution from power plants. When the Clean Power Plan is fully in place in 2030, carbon pollution from the power sector will be 32 percent below 2005 levels.

Expanded use of wind and solar power generation will enable the retirement of antiquated coal-burning and oil-burning plants, which will not only reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions linked to climate change, but will also reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that cause an assortment of health ailments.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Special Report: Did CarMax Just Make a Berkshire Hathaway Automotive Acquisition More Likely?

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CarMax, the no haggle, used car retailer with 150+ locations nationwide,
has greatly increased its presence in Boston. The move creates competitive pressures for all of Boston’s car dealers and brings up a big question.

Is it now likely that the Herb Chambers group of auto dealerships will become part of Berkshire Hathaway Automotive (BHA)?

Herb Chambers Companies, a privately-held, Boston-based dealership group with 55 total dealerships, looks to be the perfect fit for BHA, and its owner could be ready to sell. Herb Chambers could be all the more ready now that CarMax has expanded from a single outlet in the town of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, to adding two new outlets in the towns of Norwood and Danvers.

The Norwood store features 40,000 square-feet of showroom and service area, and the Danvers store features 20,000 square-feet of showroom and service area.

And There’s More Coming to Boston

A CarMax a little further west in the town of Westborough is scheduled to open in the summer of 2016, so the competition will only continue ratcheting up in the greater Boston area.

CarMax is not just another dealership group. It has muscle. It’s  a national used car power house that’s grown to be a member of the FORTUNE 500 and the S&P 500.

According to the company, during the 12 months ending February 28, 2014, nationally CarMax retailed 526,929 used cars and sold 342,576 wholesale vehicles at in-store auctions.

Who is Herb Chambers?

Herb Chambers is a former copier salesman who has spent the past thirty years building a top dealership group that is the 12th largest privately-held auto group in the nation.

Would he sell?

Chambers has already stated that he would sell if the price is right, and he tips his hat to Warren Buffett’s $4.1 billion Van Tuyl Group acquisition for boosting his personal net worth to some $1.5 billion, as valuations jumped throughout the whole sector.

Auto sales are currently at record levels and private equity money, including financier George Soros, has been looking to get in.

Opening the Door to Berkshire

Over the years, Chambers has turned down offers from AutoNation Inc. and Penske Automotive Group. Now, with valuations high for auto groups, there may be no better time to cash out.

Like Buffett, Chambers is a Shrewd Guy

Herb Chambers is certainly not afraid to sell when the time is right. Three decades ago he founded A-Copy America, and after merging it with Ikon Office Solutions, he cashed out with a big sale to Ricoh. It was a shrewd move, and Chambers has proved to be a shrewd guy who currently sells more cars than anyone else in New England.

Now, with competition heating up in the Boston market, the perfect exit strategy for Herb Chambers this time could involve Berkshire. After all, Warren Buffett’s already let be known that his goal is to make BHA much bigger.

Buffett wrote in his 2015 Berkshire Hathaway Chairman’s Letter that “…if we can buy dealerships at sensible prices – we will build a business that before long will be multiples the size of Van Tuyl’s $9 billion of sales.”

A deal with Herb Chambers could be just the way to do it.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Lubrizol Debuts Products for Stationary Natural Gas Market

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The Lubrizol Corporation, a specialty chemical manufacturer owned by Berkshire Hathaway, has released two products for the growing stationary natural gas market. The products are new advanced 4-stroke low ash technologies: Lubrizol® SG9L01 and Lubrizol® SG9L20.

The World’s Fastest Growing Energy Resource

Lubrizol notes that the Stationary natural gas is one of the world’s fastest growing primary energy resources, accounting for 24% of the global primary energy consumption and anticipated to increase 50% by 2040 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Among the many market applications for stationary natural gas are: power generation, cogeneration, gas compression, biogas, landfill and more, and these areas have developed increasingly complex requirements for desired operation.

Lubrizol’s stationary natural gas lubricants work to optimize engine performance and provide:

• Extended service life for maximized uptime
• Robust protection against the most severe gasses
• Enhanced reduction in harmful deposits
• Assured emissions compliance

“Over the past decade, Lubrizol has dedicated significant resources and capital to the development of these highly advanced additive packages,” says Al Haas, Lubrizol global product manager, Stationary Natural Gas Engines.

According to the company, Lubrizol SG9L01 delivers enhanced varnish and deposit protection at extreme temperatures, reduced combustion chamber deposits, improved copper corrosion protection and excellent wear protection with Lubrizol Hyper® ZDP Technology. Lubrizol SG9L20 offers these benefits and beyond, delivering breakthrough extended oil life for maximized uptime, improved maintenance interval planning and increased overhaul intervals.

“Lubrizol’s advanced technology resources brought these products to life,” says Paul Nai, Lubrizol global business manager, Large and Small Engines “We’ve put novel chemistry to work in order to deliver higher performance beyond what has been seen before in stationary natural gas additive technology.”

Lubrizol’s investment in stationary natural gas and its development of new additive packages reflect the company’s commitment to this important and growing market.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Commentary: A Christmas Wish List for Under Warren Buffett’s Tree

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Here’s a Christmas wish list for presents under Warren Buffett’s tree. The items are big, so we’ll fit them under Charlie Munger’s tree as well.

1. Precision Castparts: There’s nothing like getting the present you bought for yourself. The pending acquisition the aerospace manufacturer looks like the gift that will keep on giving.  Demand for new airplanes will double over the next 15 years, as aging fleets are retired and millions more people start to fly regularly in India and China.

2. Duracell: Because everyone likes to get cash for Christmas! With the Duracell acquisition set to close in February 2016, Berkshire will gain not only the leading alkaline battery manufacturer, but will also get a company recapitalized by P&G with $1.7 billion in cash, and will get huge tax savings as it trades in its appreciated P&G stock for the battery maker.

3. More German Companies: Warren Buffett’s admiration for the German economy was on full display at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in May 2015. This past February, Berkshire Hathaway struck a deal to acquire Devlet Louis Motorradvertriebs, a mail-order and retail chain selling motorbike clothing and accessories. The move, according to Buffett, was just the first small acquisition in a country with a strong economy and work ethic. And, with a rising dollar and a shaky euro, will more German companies fit under Berkshire’s tree?

4. Lots of Natural Gas: As the world dumps coal and moves to cheaper and cleaner forms of energy, Berkshire’s on the verge of striking it rich in Australia’s gas fields. Natural gas prices may be cratering now, but it never hurts to have a majority share of four trillion cubic feet of gas-in-place (yes, trillion) in Australia’s Whicher Range and Wonnerup gas fields. A new test well hopefully will bring good news in the new year.

5. More Auto Dealers: When Berkshire Hathaway jumped into the auto retailing business in March 2015, with its acquisition of the Van Tuyl Group, it added a whole new line of business to the mega-conglomerate. The Van Tuyl Group was the largest privately owned auto dealership group in the U.S., and Buffett promised that this was just the start of building a major auto-retailing empire. So, will Herb Chambers Companies, a privately-held, Boston-based dealership group with 55 total dealerships, be the perfect fit for Berkshire Hathaway Automotive? Its owner looks ready to sell. Time to wrap this one up and put a bow on it.

6. Happy Pilots at NetJets: Forget your crazy uncle, there’s nothing like having a happy family at Christmas. This holiday, NetJets’ pilots and its flight attendants will be celebrating their new contracts that bring substantial raises. Hopefully, they’ll use it to buy some of Berkshire’s fine products. How about some jewelry from Borsheims? It’s been a good year. Go for it!

7. More Solar & Wind! Berkshire’s quickly becoming the leading energy producer and distributor of solar and wind energy. This year saw major wind farm projects, including a new wind farm site in Adams County, Iowa, which will produce 162 megawatts of additional wind generation capacity in Iowa. Berkshire’s aggressive expansion of it solar power farms saw its Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County, California, become one of the largest photovoltaic solar farms in the world. And, there’s plenty of room under the tree for more such projects, which not only bring cheap energy, but also lower environmental costs as they are emissions free. With the cost of solar energy dropping fast, Berkshire’s been signing amazing deals that are a Christmas present now and for decades to come. In Nevada, it has contracted to buy electricity from First Solar’s soon to be built Playa Solar 2 at the astoundingly low rate of only 3.87 cents a kilowatt-hour, and the deal is a fixed rate contract for twenty years.

8. More Deals with 3G Capital: Because everyone likes surprises. 3G’s aggressive acquisition strategy has been the perfect partner for Berkshire’s cash. 3G brings not only the aggressive cost-cutting (aggressive is an understatement) that is bringing legacy companies such as Kraft-Heinz into the 21st century, but also gives excellent financing and equity opportunities. 3G’s merger of Burger King with Tim Hortons brought Berkshire fat interest payments and made Berkshire a minority owner of the newly formed Restaurant Brands International. Surely, there are more deals to be done.

Hard to fit this all under the Christmas tree? Berkshire’s a big company. There’s room for all this and more.

Merry Christmas everybody!

–David Mazor

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Berkshire Sets Up New Unit to Sell Insurance Online

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Berkshire Hathaway has set up a new insurance company specifically to sell insurance online to medium and large companies. The company, Berkshire Hathaway Direct Insurance Company (BHDIC), will utilize staffing and resources from Berkshire’s other insurance companies.

BHDIC will initially market workers’ compensation and business owners’ package policies.

Back office operations and investment management will be supported by affiliated Berkshire Hathaway companies. BHDIC’s risk management, including overall exposures, risk appetite and control systems, will be fully incorporated into National Indemnity Company’s (NICO) existing risk management program.

BHDIC was established using the shell of the American Centennial Insurance Company, which Berkshire took over in 2008.

Stable Ratings

Ratings agency A.M. Best has given the company an A++ rating and an issuer credit rating (ICR) of “aaa”.

A.M. Best based the ratings on BHDIC’s 90% quota share agreement with NICO, which has been rated “aaa” for the past 10 years.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

BNSF Coal Shipments Defy Prognosticators

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The new climate change agreement signed in Paris may mark the long term death of coal as a primary energy source, but in the short term, coal shipments have stayed surprisingly strong.

BNSF Railway, which is one of the nation’s largest coal shippers, has seen its year-to-date coal shipping actually rise not drop.

The rise is surprising, as coal plants have been closing, as the need to meet costly tougher emissions standards makes them uncompetitive, especially with a flood of cheap natural gas, and the ever dropping price of solar and wind generation.

Millions of Car Loads

BNSF’s total car loads of coal through December 12, 2015, were at 2,127,879, as compared to 2,177,183 car loads for the same period in 2014. The 2015 number represents a solid 2.3% increase over 2014.

There’s no doubt that as more coal fired generating plants close around the world, coal will become a fuel of the past, but for now, it’s still a key part of BNSF’s freight hauling revenues, and there’s no lump of coal in BNSF’s Christmas stocking.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Dairy Queen Makes Progress on Year-Round Customers

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When your softball team wins the July tournament where do you go to celebrate? Everyone knows you get ice cream at Dairy Queen. The problem has been that when your hockey team wins in the middle of February, you don’t go there.

It’s a battle that Dairy Queen has been fighting to prove it’s not just summer treats that are the focus of its business.

For decades, some of the oldest Dairy Queen franchises were seasonal and shuttered for the winter, but the modern DQ Grill & Chill is a full-service restaurant that need year-round business.

Dairy Queen’s corporate strategy in recent years has been to boost the quality and advertising for its food items. It’s not just a soft-serve ice cream stand. Look at the DQ Bakes sandwiches to see its efforts to expand its menu items.

DQ’s Efforts are Paying Off

It looks like Dairy Queen’s efforts are paying off. YouGov.com, an internet-based marketing firm that polls thousands of members on a wide variety of issues, is reporting that its YouGov BrandIndex is showing positive news for Dairy Queen.

The BrandIndex is billed as a key measurement of potential revenue, and it’s showing an uptick in interest in eating at Dairy Queen for the month of December 2015, as compared to December 2014.

According to their polling,  in 2014 “31% of adults 18 and over who were aware of the brand considered Dairy Queen when making their next fast food purchase. The percentage is now up to 33%.”

The 6% increase in shows that the company is making progress, and what’s more, the 33% is a healthy one, with the “average Purchase Consideration score for the fast food dining sector overall is 22%.”

DQ a Winner for Berkshire

Dairy Queen, which has 6,400+ locations worldwide, may be smaller than McDonald’s or Burger King, but to its advantage it has only three company owned stores. The cost of the bricks and mortar are born by the franchisees, and Dairy Queen makes its money from franchise fees and a percentage of the sales.

Each franchise pays a $35,000 franchise fee, a royalty fee of 4%, and a marketing fee of 5% – 6%.

In the aggregate the franchises net Berkshire Hathaway hundreds of millions a year on its investment of only $585 million, and more and more its making that money year-round.

For more information read a Mazor’sEdge special report on Dairy Queen.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

NetJets Pilots Get Their Long-Awaited Raises

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It’s going to be a merry Christmas for NetJets’ pilots!

The approximately 2,700 pilots that fly for Berkshire Hathaway’s fractional jet ownership company have agreed to raises that will bring them $575 million spread over five years.

The new deal maintains company-funded medical insurance, offers enhanced scheduling options, expands scope protections and seniority rights, pays out a signing bonus and increases wages an average of 28 percent.

According to the certified election results, 96 percent of the pilot group participated in the referendum with 75.43 percent casting a vote in favor of ratification.

The pilots, who are all members of the NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots (NJASAP), will split a one-time bonus of $70 million.

The raises mean that a captain with ten-years-experience will earn $143,105. The salary represents a 20-percent increase over previous salary levels.

NetJets is the world-leader fractional jet ownership, with 60-percent of the market, but the move is unlikely to leave it at a competitive disadvantage with its smaller competitors.

In mid-December, Flexjet and Flight Options pilots voted in favor of joining NJASAP, and the salaries negotiated with NetJets will surely be the basis for NJASAP’s negotiations with other fractional jet companies.

The new NetJets pilots’ agreement came after a contentious labor dispute that led to NetJets’ pilots picketing Berkshire’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, and in September, the pilots began picketing at a number of airports.

Change in Leadership Led to Breakthrough

On June 1, 2015, Berkshire Hathaway, the owner of NetJets, dismissed NetJets CEO and chairman Jordan Hansell, replacing him with Adam Johnson, who had spent 22 years at NetJets. The change led to a new contract with its flight attendants in October, and then an agreement with the pilots in November.

Berkshire Hathaway purchased NetJets, the leader in fractional jet ownership, in 1998 for $725 million.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Special Report: Dairyvative Gets $2.5 Million Investment in New Milk Technology

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Dairyvative Technologies, a Wisconsin-based developer of a patented process that allows pasteurized milk to be concentrated to a liquid that has one seventh of its original volume, has received a major new round of funding.

Dairyvative received a $2.5 million investment from two undisclosed Wisconsin dairies, and from the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation.

The money will be used to enable the company to expand its staffing and boost production for more commercial trials.

What’s that have to do with Berkshire Hathaway?

Berkshire’s Cornelius, Inc. and Dairyvative are looking to change the way milk is shipped, stored, and dispensed.

In August 2015, Cornelius signed a strategic partnership agreement with Dairyvative that makes Cornelius the exclusive provider of equipment to hold and dispense the concentrated milk provided by dairies using Dairyvative’s patented SEVENx technology.

One of the newer members of the Berkshire Hathaway family, Cornelius was acquired for $1.1 billion on January 2, 2014, by Berkshire’s wholly owned Marmon Group.

With 4,500 employees, and manufacturing facilities in seven countries, spanning North America, Europe, and China, Cornelius provides beverage dispensing technology to leading food service and retail companies, including PepsiCo, Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Yum, Starbucks, and Burger King.

All of these companies and more are potential customers for Dairyvative’s new technology.

A Whole New Way to Store Milk

Dairyvative claims its SEVENx technology “allows pasteurized milk to be concentrated to a liquid that has one seventh of its original volume. The lactose-free end product is shelf-stable without refrigeration for up to 6 months. The process also keeps milk proteins intact, maintaining nutrient and flavor profiles.”

Unlike milk treated with Ultra-high temperature processing (UHT), SEVENx technology has relatively minimal thermal treatment by comparison.

“I have been working on this process for 28 years,” said Dr. Charles E. Sizer, founder and CEO of Dairyvative Technologies. “There have been a lot of hurdles in maintaining the functionality and freshness of the product.”

One of the first markets for the SEVENx technology will be in quick service restaurants, where using Cornelius’s dispensing technology, the new dispenser will allow individual consumers the choice of adding several different flavors to the milk. Cornelius’ technology also enables the milk to be carbonated during dispensing.

Looking for a World Leader

“We knew Cornelius is the leader in dispensing products, so we approached them and signed an exclusive deal,” Dr. Sizer explained.

While Dairyvative touts the concentrated milk as having the “natural fresh taste of milk,” it does note that it is slightly sweeter due to the conversion of lactose into the sugars glucose and galactose.

Dairyvative also says that the cost for dairy processors to produce the concentrated milk is low, as much of the equipment that processors need is already in place. They also note that the long shelf-life means less spoilage and returns, lower transportation costs, and environmental benefits such as less electricity needed for milk storage.

Reducing the Carbon Footprint

Reducing the carbon footprint is very important to Dr. Sizer. He notes that currently it takes 2.05 kilos of carbon to bring 1 kilo (1 liter) of milk to the consumer.

“We can reduce that by 20%-30% right out of the gate,” Dr. Sizer said. “And by locating in close proximity to the dairy, we can reduce it even further.”

Expect to see the U.S. rollout of the new milk product in 2016, and Dairyvative is already in discussion with multi-national dairies for international markets.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.