Berkshire’s AT&T Stake Echoes P&G Deal

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

With AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV now completed, Berkshire finds itself a major shareholder in AT&T at a price far more favorable than if it had originally gone out and bought AT&T stock.

At the time that AT&T announced the $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV, Berkshire  owned 34.5 million shares of DirecTV. Those shares were purchased at roughly half the tender price of $95 per share that was offered by AT&T.

At the $95 share price, Berkshire’s holdings were worth at least $3.27 billion, provided that it did not accumulate any additional shares after March 31, 2014.

After the merger, each DirecTV share has converted to 1.892 shares of AT&T common stock and $28.50 in cash. Berkshire has ended up with 59.4 million shares of AT&T with a value of roughly $2 billion, and also received roughly $900 million in cash.

Todd Combs and Ted Weschler Pick a Winner

Berkshire’s DirecTV stake was purchased by Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, as a part of portfolios they manage on behalf of the company.

Combs and Weschler each manage $7 billion portfolios, and have seen the amount of money under their supervision increased significantly in the past two years as Warren Buffett has grown more confident in their approaches.

The Future of Berkshire’s AT&T Stake

Berkshire has not announced any plans for its AT&T stake, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it held on to it long-term. Berkshire has a history of sitting on its stock positions and letting the dividends pour in. Currently, AT&T pays $1.88 annually for a return of 5.5% based on a share price around $34. However, with Berkshire’s cost basis less than half of that share price its yield is effectively 11%.

The deal is reminiscent of Berkshire’s $600 million investment in Gillette, which through a merger eventually became a $4.7 billion stake in Procter & Gamble.

Berkshire recently liquidated its stake in P&G by swapping P&G stock for the company’s  Duracell battery division, which was also recapitalized with $1.7 billion in cash.

The move helped Berkshire avoid the large capital gains tax that would have been due if it had simply sold its P&G shares, and brought the world-leader in batteries under its corporate umbrella.

Who knows what the future holds for its AT&T stake?

© 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.