Monthly Archives: March 2020

Berkshire’s Berkadia Partner Loses CFO to Coronavirus

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Jefferies Financial Group, Berkshire Hathaway’s joint-venture partner in Berkadia, has announced the death of it CFO due to Coronavirus.

In a statement issued by Jefferies, they noted “with profound sadness that Peg Broadbent, the CFO of Jefferies Group LLC, has passed away from coronavirus complications. The entire Jefferies family mourns Peg’s loss. On behalf of our Board of Directors, management team and all our global employees, we extend our deepest sympathies to Peg’s family.

Rich Handler, our CEO, and Brian Friedman, our President, expressed their most heartfelt condolences and stated: ‘We are heartbroken and grieve that our friend and colleague, Peg Broadbent, has passed away from coronavirus complications. Our thoughts, prayers and love go out to Peg’s dear wife, Hayley, and their young children, Sebastian and Peg, as well as Peg’s older children, Anna, Sophie and Charlie, and all of Peg’s extended family here and in the United Kingdom.

The loss of Peg is incredibly personal for us as he was a member of our own extended family. For over a dozen years, Peg has been our CFO and partner, and helped us build Jefferies from less than half its current size, and navigate through hard times and good times. He has also been a much-loved and respected leader to the incredible global team that provides the support, foundation and glue across our firm. But Peg was so much more. Part of what made Peg the great partner he was to all of us was his core humanity. No matter what the occasion, his decency, calmness and dry wit were always there, always making things better. We will miss him terribly.

We know Peg would want his passing to serve as a reminder to all of us of how much he cared for all of his friends at Jefferies and that our priority must be the health and happiness of our loved ones. May Peg’s memory be for a blessing for his family, for us and for all who loved him.’”

Teri Gendron, CFO of Jefferies Financial Group, has been appointed as the interim CFO and Chief Accounting Officer of Jefferies Group LLC.

About Berkadia

Founded in 2009 as a 50/50 joint venture between Berkshire Hathaway and Leucadia National Corporation (now known as Jefferies Financial Group), Berkadia is a third-party commercial mortgage servicer, as well as an approved lender for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and HUD/FHA.

The company is among the top Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae multifamily lenders.

Berkadia owes its origins to GMAC Commercial Mortgage Corporation, which was acquired in 2009 by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Five Mile Capital Partners LLC, and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners. Christened Capmark Financial, the company had $10 billion of originations in 2008 and a servicing portfolio of more than $360 billion before running into bankruptcy in October 2009.

In a deal approved by the bankruptcy court, Capmark sold its mortgage loan and servicing to the newly formed Berkadia in a deal worth $515 million.

The deal brought Berkshire into the heart of the commercial loan serving business, and the company has one of the largest commercial real estate servicing portfolios.

© 2019 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: Buffett’s Cash Pile Not a Source of Ridicule Anymore

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Up until a few weeks ago, Berkshire Hathaway’s enormous pile of cash, which had reached $125 billion, and was growing $1.5 billion a month, was taken by many as a sign of failure on the part of Warren Buffett.

Increasing cries for a dividend, or increased buybacks (despite the stock sitting at or near record highs) was just some of the popular chatter.

What a difference a few weeks makes.

With the markets experiencing extreme volatility, and many businesses forced to close or facing plummeting demand, Buffett’s patience finally looks like it has met conditions where his value investing strategies can excel.

As share prices fall, Buffett clearly has the chance to use his elephant gun to bag his elephant, as he likes to call the acquisition of a major company, which is something he hasn’t done since acquiring Precision Castparts in 2016.

The opportunities are many, as valuations have retreated so significantly that Berkshire now holds more cash than the market valuations of more than 450 companies in the S&P 500, over 80 in the Nasdaq 100, and 11 that make up the Dow 30.

In addition to acquiring his elephant or two, Buffett will certainly have opportunities to help companies shore up their balance sheets through his favorite method—receiving preferred stock that pays generous interest, and receiving warrants for common stock purchases.

The latter, as in the case of his rescue of Bank of America during the Great Recession, pays off handsomely once the economy and stock prices have recovered. As proof, Berkshire now owns just over 9.9% of the bank.

It will be interesting to see what strategies Buffett employs, and whether there are more opportunities in the purchase of whole companies, or in grabbing generous chunks of a wide range of companies. He might even increase his buyback of Berkshire stock, because owning more of one of the world’s healthiest and diversified conglomerates makes sense at these prices.

Perhaps investors big and small should do the same, as Berkshire’s P/E ratio of sat at only 5.38 as of Friday, March 27.

Let’s not forget that in addition to being poised for Berkshire’s expansion while others are contracting, Buffett has also insured the short term and long term health of Berkshire itself. He has always held $20-$25 billion in reserve for the conglomerates own needs during the worst of times.

These might be the worst of times for some, but for Buffett, who famously said in his 1986 Letter to Shareholders, “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful,” these are the best of times to invest.

In a couple of months, Berkshire’s next 13F filing will reveal just how much stock he and his trust lieutenants Todd Combs and Ted Weschler have acquired, and we may know even sooner if an elephant comes within range.

It will be interesting to see how greedy Buffett gets.

© 2020 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: GEICO Right to Bet on Maintaining Policyholder Loyalty

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Berkshire Hathaway’s auto insurer GEICO is pausing cancellation of coverage due to non-payment and policy expiration, effectively immediately. This pause will remain in effect through April 30, 2020.

In addition, GEICO is prepared to offer maximum flexibility, including special payment plans, to those who need it once normal billing operations are scheduled to resume.

“This ongoing situation impacts everyone, and we want our policyholders to have some peace of mind knowing we’ll be there when they need us most,” said GEICO President and CEO Todd Combs.

In taking this step, GEICO is betting that maintaining policyholder loyalty is more important than trying to squeeze cash out of customers that are out of the blue in a severe cash crunch.

While they may have some policies in arrears, on the positive side for GEICO is that self-quarantining due to the Coronavirus will lead to a dramatic reduction in new claims filed due to reduced mileage.

GEICO, like other leading auto insurers, such as Progressive, Liberty Mutual, and State Farm, normally runs multiple media campaigns. The reason for this is that in recent years the battle for policyholders is primarily a branding battle, not one of service or policy features.

Capturing the wallet of the consumer through the GEICO gecko, wood chucking wildlife, and office wandering camels, is a far more effective than listing the dry insurance features that policyholders are actually purchasing.

GEICO’s doing the right thing, both for consumers and for its bottom line. After all, losing customers at a time when they are down may add to customer acquisition costs down the road when the economy revives.

If GEICO can maintain brand loyalty, it will have done more to cement itself in the heart of the consumer than all the geckos in the world ever could.

© 2020 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.

BYD Becomes Major Surgical Mask Producer

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BYD has jumped into the medical supplies business and almost overnight has already become one of the largest manufacturers of surgical masks.

BYD is growing its efforts to help alleviate severe shortages that have affected hospitals in the face of the COVID-19 global outbreak.

BYD’s manufacturing plant in Shenzen, China is mass-producing sanitary face masks, and is now running at full capacity.

The plant can produce 5 million masks and 300,000 bottles of disinfectant per day.

The supplies will “help alleviate severe shortages that have affected hospitals and agencies across China in the face of the global COVID-19 outbreak,” the company said in a statement.

BYD Chairman and President Wang Chuanfu has appointed a special task force consisting of leaders from different business divisions and more than 3,000 engineers involved in research and development, design, processing and other roles.

“A production line for high-quality face masks requires about 1,300 parts for various gears, chains, and rollers, 90% of which are BYD’s self-made parts,” Sherry Li, director general of BYD’s President Office, said in a statement.

BYD and Berkshire Hathaway

In 2008, Berkshire Hathaway bet on BYD’s potential, purchasing 225 million shares. It’s an investment that has paid off handsomely. Berkshire’s original investment of $230 million has grown in value almost ten-fold, and is now worth roughly $1.96 billion.

For More on BYD, read the Special Report: BYD, Berkshire’s Tesla.

© 2020 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.

Mouser Electronics Named Global High Service Distributor of the Year by TE Connectivity

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Berkshire Hathaway’s Mouser Electronics, Inc., the authorized global distributor with the newest semiconductors and electronic components, has received the Global High Service Distributor of the Year Award for the sixth time from TE Connectivity (TE), a world leader in connectivity and sensors.

The top distribution award recognizes Mouser’s 2019 performance based on sales growth, market share growth, customer growth and business plan performance.

“Mouser delivers exceptional service to our mutual customers, and I am very pleased to recognize them with this award,” said Karen Leggio, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Channel, at TE. “Mouser’s track record of achievement with TE, including receiving the Global High Service Distributor of the Year Award six times, is a testament to our strong and successful partnership.”

“We are incredibly honored to receive this prestigious award, and thank TE for recognizing the outstanding efforts of our teams around the world,” said Glenn Smith, Mouser Electronics’ President and CEO. “TE is an industry leader and a valued business partner. We look forward to our continued mutual success.”

Last year, Mouser received TE’s APAC Customer Expansion Award, Japan Customer Expansion Award, and EMEA Customer Expansion Award, as well as the Americas Application Tooling Business Unit Distributor of the Year and Americas Data and Devices Business Unit Distributor of the Year Awards. Mouser received the TE Global High Service Distributor of the Year Award in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and again in 2019.

© 2020 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 Hathaway Completes Sale of Newspaper Assets to Lee Enterprises

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Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio of newspapers now officially have a new home, Lee Enterprises. The company is a local news provider and leading platform for advertising in 77 markets.

Lee Enterprises has completed its acquisition of BH Media Group’s publications and The Buffalo News.

The acquisition nearly doubled Lee’s audience size and added 30 daily newspapers, more than 49 paid weekly publications with digital sites, and 32 other print products from BHMG, as well as The Buffalo News, to Lee’s portfolio of high-quality local publications.

Lee’s portfolio is now comprised of 77 publications in 77 communities.

Additionally, after the elimination of the management agreement and adding operating expenses from the lease agreement, the transaction is expected to drive an 87% increase in revenue, a 40% increase in adjusted EBITDA, and immediately reduce Lee’s leverage to 3.5x, even before $20-25 million in anticipated annual revenue and cost synergies.

As previously announced, and in connection with the transaction, Berkshire Hathaway provided approximately $576 million in long-term financing to Lee at a 9% annual rate.

The proceeds from the financing were used to pay for the acquisition and refinance Lee’s existing debt, and also allowed Lee to terminate its revolving credit facility.

Berkshire Hathaway is now Lee’s sole lender.

Mary Junck, Chairman, said, “We are pleased to complete this compelling and transformative transaction, which enhances Lee’s position strategically, operationally and financially. This transaction reinforces our conviction in the value and power of local news, adding 31 publications with deep roots in their communities, enabling Lee to serve even more readers and advertisers. Further, this transaction allowed Lee to address our long-term debt on attractive terms while deepening our relationship with Berkshire Hathaway – now our sole lender – to enable more flexibility as we continue to invest in our business with a digital-first mindset. We join our shareholders, publishers, employees and audiences in their excitement about this transaction and the opportunities that lie ahead for Lee.”

Kevin Mowbray, President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “Lee today leads the industry in digital revenue growth and operating performance, and this transaction unlocks new opportunities to grow our top line and further accelerate our digital transformation. After over 18 months of managing the BH Media Group publications, Lee looks forward to leveraging our deep knowledge of this portfolio to drive further efficiencies across our expanded and integrated operation. This transition, which is already underway, is underpinned by shared values and an alignment around our mission to deliver high-quality local news. We are confident that we have the right strategy and operational expertise to realize the full benefits of this transaction for our readers, advertisers, shareholders and communities we serve.”

© 2020 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.

Former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault Nominated to Berkshire Hathaway Board, Bill Gates Off

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Berkshire Hathaway’s board of directors will have a new member and lose an old one as of the upcoming annual meeting on May 2.

Kenneth Chenault, the former CEO and Chairman of American Express from 2001 until 2018, and the third African American CEO of a Fortune 500 company, will join Berkshire’s board.

Chenault is 68, making him a relative youngster as far as Berkshire goes.

Berkshire Hathaway owns just over 18% of American Express stock.

Meanwhile, longtime board member Bill Gates is stepping down. Gates has been on Berkshire’s board since 1991.

“I have made the decision to step down from both of the public boards on which I serve – Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway – to dedicate more time to philanthropic priorities including global health and development, education, and my increasing engagement in tackling climate change,” Gates wrote on a LinkedIn blog last Friday.

© 2020 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 Hathaway Scraps In-Person Annual Meeting

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They come from all over the world for what has been dubbed “Woodstock for Capitalists,” but not this year. Berkshire has issued the following statement:
Events have moved very fast since Berkshire issued its annual report on February 22.

The annual meeting will be held at 3:45 p.m. on May 2nd as scheduled. However, we will not be able to allow shareholders to physically attend the meeting, and all special events are canceled.

I very much regret this action; for many decades the annual meeting has been a high point of the year for me and my partner, Charlie Munger.

It is now clear, however, that large gatherings can pose a health threat to the participants and the greater community. We won’t ask this of our employees and we won’t expose Omaha to the possibility of becoming a “hot spot” in the current pandemic. Therefore, we will limit attendance to me, possibly Charlie, and several Berkshire employees who will deliver proxy votes.

It’s possible that one or more of the journalists that we listed on page A-2 of the 2019 annual report will be present to ask some of the questions submitted to them. We are deferring a decision on this matter, but encourage you to continue to send your questions to them.

Yahoo has confirmed that it will stream the meeting. They have provided great coverage in the past, and you can watch what takes place in Omaha from your armchair.

Charlie and I will miss you, but we will see many thousands of you next year.

Thanks for your understanding,

Warren E. Buffett

© 2020 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.

Mouser Electronics Named Global High Service Distributor of the Year

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Berkshire Hathaway’s Mouser Electronics, Inc., the authorized global distributor with the newest semiconductors and electronic components, has received the Global High Service Distributor of the Year Award for the sixth time from TE Connectivity (TE), a world leader in connectivity and sensors. The top distribution award recognizes Mouser’s 2019 performance based on sales growth, market share growth, customer growth and business plan performance.

“Mouser delivers exceptional service to our mutual customers, and I am very pleased to recognize them with this award,” said Karen Leggio, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Channel, at TE. “Mouser’s track record of achievement with TE, including receiving the Global High Service Distributor of the Year Award six times, is a testament to our strong and successful partnership.”

“We are incredibly honored to receive this prestigious award, and thank TE for recognizing the outstanding efforts of our teams around the world,” said Glenn Smith, Mouser Electronics’ President and CEO. “TE is an industry leader and a valued business partner. We look forward to our continued mutual success.”

Last year, Mouser received TE’s APAC Customer Expansion Award, Japan Customer Expansion Award, and EMEA Customer Expansion Award, as well as the Americas Application Tooling Business Unit Distributor of the Year and Americas Data and Devices Business Unit Distributor of the Year Awards. Mouser received the TE Global High Service Distributor of the Year Award in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and again in 2019.

Mouser stocks a broad selection of TE products for industries and applications, including automotive, industrial, harsh environments, data communications, consumer devices and aerospace and defense.

As an authorized distributor, Mouser Electronics is focused on the rapid introduction of new products and technologies, giving customers an edge and helping speed time to market. Over 800 semiconductor and electronic component manufacturers count on Mouser to help them introduce their products into the global marketplace. Mouser’s customers can expect 100% certified, genuine products that are fully traceable from each manufacturer.

With its broad product line and unsurpassed customer service, Mouser strives to empower innovation among design engineers and buyers by delivering advanced technologies. Mouser stocks the world’s widest selection of the latest semiconductors and electronic components for the newest design projects. Mouser Electronics’ website is continually updated and offers advanced search methods to help customers quickly locate inventory. Mouser.com also houses data sheets, supplier-specific reference designs, application notes, technical design information, and engineering tools.

© 2020 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 Hathaway’s Railserve, Inc. Creates Strategic Alliance With USD Group

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Railserve, Inc., a Marmon/Berkshire Hathaway company, and USD Group have announced a strategic alliance to develop rail-centric solutions that enhance growth, efficiency and capacity for all sectors of the rail industry.

“We recognize the unique environment that railroads and shippers currently operate within,” said Dan Borgen, USDG’s CEO and President. “In an industry that is increasingly capacity constrained, our strategic alliance with Railserve is one of many ways USDG is continually pursuing growth and promoting efficiency. We believe USDG and Railserve can leverage our respective organizational capabilities to tailor unique solutions.”

The alliance between USDG and Railserve is born from a long history of collaboration and shared values. USDG and its affiliates are engaged in designing, developing, owning and managing large-scale multi-modal logistics centers and energy-related midstream infrastructure across North America. Railserve is a leading provider of on-site rail services, including third party rail switching, in-plant logistics, locomotive service, track maintenance, locomotive sales and leasing, air brakes as well as a host of car repair inspection, cleaning and maintenance services through Union Tank Car. The alliance will allow the companies to more seamlessly provide customers with new service options, such as car inspections, car repairs and car washing.

“We believe this alliance creates a wide range of services and capabilities for rail shippers and receivers,” said Tim Benjamin, Group President – Railyard Products and Equipment. “Our longstanding relationship with USDG makes this a natural partnership for our respective companies. The current dynamic rail environment continues to evolve and both companies understand the efforts around Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), storage in transit (SIT), First and Last Mile, truck to rail transload, ports, and efficient growth solutions. Our collective team of experienced industry experts are uniquely qualified to assist in all these areas.”

The alliance is currently coordinating activities and railroad and energy industry partners will have immediate opportunities to benefit from these new initiatives.

© 2020 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.