Category Archives: Commentary

Commentary: With Investment in India’s Paytm, Berkshire Moving Beyond Technology Aversion

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Insurance, manufacturing, transportation, retail, these are all things Berkshire Hathaway are known for but not technology.

Warren Buffett’s famed aversion to technology has been fading with Berkshire’s $46.6 billion stake in Apple, and now comes word that the company has taken a 3-4% stake in One97 Communications Ltd, the parent of Indian digital payments company Paytm.

In just eight years, Paytm has become India’s leading digital payments platform in country where digital payments are projected to grow five-fold by 2023.

The investment was actually made by Berkshire portfolio manager Todd Combs, and the main thing it shows is that the next generation of Berkshire’s investment management may not stick to a strictly value investing strategy.

“I have been impressed by Paytm and am excited about being a part of its growth story, as it looks to transform payments and financial services in India,” Combs said.

In addition to the investment, Combs will also join the eight-member board of the company, which includes Alibaba co-founder and executive chairman Joseph Tsai, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas managing partner Pallavi Shroff, Ant Financial CEO Eric Jing, and Goldman Sachs Asia chairman Mark Schwartz.

“Berkshire’s experience in financial services, and long-term investment horizon is going to be a huge advantage in Paytm’s journey of bringing 500 million Indians to the mainstream economy through financial inclusion,” Paytm’s founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma noted.

For a company the size of Berkshire, the $356 million investment in One97 Communications Ltd hardly makes a dent in its mountain of cash, which totaled $111 billion at the end of the second quarter. In fact, it represents just over a week’s profit at the rate Berkshire is currently generating it. However, the investment, while small, shows that Berkshire is both looking beyond the U.S. for investment opportunities and beyond its traditional investment parameters.

© 2018 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 and Munger Right on Cryptocurrencies, So Far

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

It’s no secret that Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger have been famously down on cryptocurrencies.

“Bitcoin is like rat poison squared,” Buffett said during the 2018 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.

That Buffett, and Berkshire’s vice-chairman Charlie Munger, are naysayers on cryptocurrencies is no surprise. As the world’s leading value investors, speculative assets are exactly the things they avoid.

While Buffett’s “rat poison,” comment did not come with a detailed explanation, it was, however, supplemented by Munger’s take that cryptocurrencies are “totally asinine.”

On the speculative trading frenzy that bid prices up to astronomical levels at the end of 2017, that didn’t impress Munger much either.

“Someone else is trading turds and you decide I can’t be left out,” Munger noted wryly.

Since May, cryptocurrency prices have continued their downward march, including heavy selling on Monday and Tuesday.

Why? Perhaps it’s because the highly touted utility of Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc. have yet to prove compelling to anyone but speculators.

A Currency, or a Speculative Asset?

People that tout Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are really believers in the rise of a nonproductive asset that is no different than gold, silver, or the alligator infested swamp land offered during the Florida land speculation of the 1920s.

Cryptocurrencies are an asset that is moving up or down daily based on what Benjamin Graham would have called speculation, and what can also be called gambling.

Devotees will wax poetic about the unique properties of blockchain, the supposed anonymity of cryptocurrencies, and other virtues of virtual currencies that show its utility, but to do that is to ignore that these assets are not being bought and used as what they are touted as, currencies.

After all, a currency is supposed to be a medium of exchange between two parties for goods and services, not a speculative asset class that you stash in your safety deposit box on a thumb drive.

As for its unique utility, that also hasn’t impressed Munger all that much.

“The fact that it’s clever computer science doesn’t mean it should be widely used, and that respectable people should encourage other people to speculate on it,” Munger said on CNBC’s Squawk Box.

Put aside its so-called utility, let’s talk about why people really got excited about Bitcoin in the first place. It inflated in value at an astronomical rate, and people were becoming cryptocurrency millionaires or billionaires overnight without doing anything.

But wait, this extreme bidding upward in the marketplace is not a feature of currencies. It is a feature of speculative asset fevers reminiscent of the Dutch Tulip Mania of the 1500s.

While historically currencies have periodically plunged in value due to hyper-inflation (just look at Venezuela to see that phenomenon), the same process does not happen in reverse.

There’s a simple explanation for that. Plunging values for currencies reflect a lack of faith in a currency as a method of exchange. The more extreme that pessimism, the more currency it takes to overcome it.

But, currencies of the more sound variety, which in essence have more faith placed in them by creditors, do not get bouts of extreme faith that shoot them up astronomically. They increase or decrease in a much narrower range.

Accepting Bitcoin as a currency is no different than asking to get paid in casino chips or lottery tickets. You are hoping for a second transaction to determine its value. At the casino it’s spinning the roulette wheel, and with cryptocurrencies it’s betting in the marketplace that someone will pay you more for your Bitcoins than the valuation you got them at.

All speculative bubbles are full of enablers. They are so-called experts that tell you why this time is different, hucksters telling the masses not to be left out, and true believers that have adopted the asset as a religion.

It’s a familiar tale that always has a sad ending for all but a few.

“Bitcoin is worthless, artificial gold,” Munger noted on Squawk Box. “Now that is not something I think the world needs.”

So, far, both Buffett and Munger are being proven right.

© 2018 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 Not the Only Billionaire into Restaurant Brands International

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

One of Warren Buffett’s best deals in recent years was his 2014 financing of Burger King’s acquisition of Canadian Restaurant Chain Tim Hortons.

The deal was financed by Berkshire Hathaway, and Berkshire’s role gave the conglomerate ownership and control over 4.18% of the outstanding Common Shares and 14.37% of the total number of votes attached to all outstanding voting shares of the newly created Restaurant Brands International.

The company has continued to grow, and in 2017 gobbled up Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen for $1.8 billion.

What made the deal one of Buffett’s best was Berkshire’s right to purchase 8,438,225 common shares of Restaurant Brands for a penny a share. The warrants came attached to 68,530,939 Class A 9.00% Cumulative Compounding Perpetual Preferred Shares that Berkshire acquired during the financing.

Berkshire has been sitting in the catbird seat, and with Restaurant Brands’ stock currently at $62.77 a share, Buffett is ahead a remarkable 620,770%.

It’s a reminder that Buffett is not just a great stock picker, he’s one the greatest dealmakers.

Restaurant Brands International, which trades under the symbol QSR, was trading in the $40s when the company was formed, and is still drawing interest at prices fifty percent higher than that.

Billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin has amassed 4.6 million shares of Restaurant Brands’ stock.

Griffin has been ranked as the 52nd richest person in America, and his Citadel LLC has developed a reputation for astute investments.

Griffin got his investing start in 1987, when as a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard University, he started trading from his dorm room with a fax machine, a personal computer, and a telephone.

© 2018 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: Warren Buffett is Right About Bitcoin

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

“Bitcoin is like rat poison squared,” Warren Buffett said during the 2018 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. The comment got a positive response from the tens of thousands that packed the CenturyLink Center’s arena.

That Buffett, and Berkshire’s vice-chairman Charlie Munger, are down on cryptocurrencies is no surprise. As the world’s leading value investors, speculative assets are exactly the things they avoid.

While the “rat poison,” comment did not come with a detailed explanation, it easily ties in with a major point that Buffett hammered home at the beginning of the meeting.

After showing the audience the front page of a newspaper from 1942, Buffett talked about the first three shares of stock that he ever bought when he was age 12, which was a company called Cities Service. He showed how his impatience and quickness to denied the far greater amount he would have made if he had been patient and held the shares long term.

Buffett again returned to the 1942 date to make a completely different point.

Buffett detailed what would have happened to an investment of $10,000 in gold on that date, as compared to $10,000 in what would have been an index of the S&P 500, if it had existed at that date. While 300 ounces of gold would have grown to a worth of $400,000 today, the shares of the S&P 500 stocks would have grown to a vastly greater sum of $51 million.

That’s the difference been a nonproductive asset and a productive asset, Buffett explained. Even after all the decades went by, the gold would still be only 300 ounces. It wouldn’t have grown. But the productive assets of the S&P 500 stocks have the capacity to grow because they represent businesses that produce goods and provide services.

“For every dollar you could have made in American business, you’d have less than a penny of gain by buying into a store of value which people tell you to run to every time you get scared by the headlines,” Buffett explained.

It’s all about nonproductive assets versus productive assets.

“While the businesses were reinvesting in more plants and new inventions came along, you would look into your safety deposit box, and you’ve have your 300 ounces of gold,” Buffett mused, “And you would look at it, and you could fondle it, I mean, whatever you wanted to do with it. But it didn’t produce anything. It was never going to produce anything. And what would you have today? You would have 300 ounces of gold just like you had in March of 1942, and it would be worth approximately $400,000.”

In the end, gold versus stocks, over a great length of time, is not even close.

“In other words, for every dollar you could have made in American business, you’d have less than a penny of gain by buying into a store of value which people tell you to run to every time you get scared by the headlines,” Buffett said.

While Buffett’s nonproductive asset versus productive asset lecture was using gold as the example, it could have just as easily been about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Here’s where you get my commentary

People that tout Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are really believers in the rise of a nonproductive asset that is no different than gold, silver, or the alligator infested swamp land offered during the Florida land speculation of the 1920s. Cryptocurrencies are an asset that is moving up or down daily based on what Benjamin Graham would have called speculation, and what can also be called gambling.

Naysayers will talk about the unique properties of blockchain, supposed anonymity of cryptocurrencies, and other virtues of virtual currencies that show its utility, but to do that is to ignore that these assets are not being bought and used as currency, which after all is a medium of exchange between two parties.

Let’s pretend that a significant number of people were converting their dollars or euros, or other currencies into Bitcoin and then going out and buying houses, or cars, or diamonds with it. The last thing a recipient of a Bitcoin transaction would want to do is sell their house today and find that the value of the medium of exchange had dropped 5%, 10%, or more the day after their real estate transaction.

Let’s look at another key aspect of Bitcoin. It’s inflated in value at an astronomical rate. This is what has everyone so excited about it. You can become a cryptocurrency millionaire or billionaire overnight without doing anything.

This extreme bidding upward in the marketplace is not a feature of currencies. It is a feature of speculative fevers reminiscent of the Dutch Tulip Mania of the 1500s.

While historically currencies have periodically plunged in value due to hyper-inflation. We need just look at Weimar Republic Germany, 1980s Argentina, or Venezuela today to see that phenomenon, the same process does not happen in reverse.

There’s a simple explanation for that. Plunging values for currencies reflect a lack of faith in a currency as a method of exchange. The more extreme that pessimism, the more currency it takes to overcome it.

But, currencies of the more sound variety, which in essence have more faith placed in them by creditors, do not get bouts of extreme faith that shoot them up astronomically. They increase or decrease in a much narrower range.

Accepting Bitcoin as a currency is no different than asking to get paid in casino chips or lottery tickets. You are hoping for a second transaction to determine its value. At the casino it’s spinning the roulette wheel, and with cryptocurrencies it is betting that in the marketplace someone will pay you more for your Bitcoins than the valuation you got them at.

All speculative bubbles are full of enablers. They are so-called experts that tell you why this time is different, hucksters telling the masses not to be left out, and true believers that have adopted the asset as a religion.

It’s best to remember that speculative fevers are not just a remnant of the distant past. In the late-1990s, a plush toy called a Beanie Baby became the focal point of a speculative fever. Suddenly, an asset that’s main utility was as an occupant of a child’s toy box, was being hoarded by everyone and their brother. Prices soared, certain $5 Beanie Babies were going for $5,000, and one obsessed man planned to pay his children’s college education based on the anticipated rise in value of his plush portfolio. The strategy did not work out well.

As for Bitcoin, while players such as Goldman Sachs are actively looking to make money off of people trading cryptocurrencies, Warren Buffet rightly expressed his skepticism that such a move represented any kind of endorsement of the soundness of the strategy.

“I would be very surprised if the top partners of Goldman are selling their Goldman stock and putting it into Bitcoin,” Buffett said on CNBC’s Squawk Box.

It’s a familiar tale that always has a sad ending for all but a few. Just ask the man who lost $100,000 hoarding Beanie Babies.

Buffett’s rat poison comment is true. However, rat poison kills rats. Speculative fevers kill the hopes, dreams, and lives of investors.

© 2018 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: Is the Time at Hand for Berkshire to Cash Out of USG?

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Gypsum rock and plaster manufacturer United States Gypsum Company soared today as news that Warren Buffett had offered Berkshire Hathaway’s 30% stake in the company to USG’s other major minority stakeholder, Knauf Entities.

Knauf has long been a potential suitor of USG, and was interested in acquiring the company as far back as 2000, when Berkshire first took a 14% stake.

Berkshire reportedly offered its shares to Knauf at $42 per share, which was roughly 19% above the stock’s closing price on Friday, March 23.

USG’s Board of Directors’ weighed in with their own statement, as they moved to squash the deal.

“The board carefully evaluated it and determined that it substantially undervalues the company and is not in the best interests of all of USG’s shareholders.”

Instead, they suggested that its own plans would be the best way to boost shareholder value.

One thing seems clear, after 17 years riding this stock up and down, Buffett is finally ready to move on.

If it does complete the deal with Knauf, not only would Berkshire make money on its investment, but it’s already made a lot of money even though the stock does not pay a dividend.

The Great Recession, USG and Berkshire

Berkshire played a key role in saving USG during the nadir of the Great Recession.

In 2008, with the housing market imploding and lending all but frozen, Berkshire came to USG’s rescue with $300 million of convertible notes that paid Berkshire 10-percent interest.

At the time, the boost in confidence the company received from Warren Buffett’s financing helped the company avoid another bankruptcy. The day of transaction the stock soared 22% to $6.89 a share.

Today, the stock is hovering around $40 per share.

Berkshire has not only profited from the healthy interest payments, but the stock’s appreciation as well.

In December 2013, Berkshire exchanged $243.8 million of the convertible notes for common stock, and with additional purchases its stake in USG now sits at roughly 30.8%.

Back in 2015 and again in 2016, I wrote that perhaps it was time for Berkshire to buy the rest of USG, as the housing market had revived from its Great Recession doldrums.

However, at Berkshire’s 2017 Annual Shareholders’ Meeting, Buffett was less than enthusiastic about USG.

Buffett commented in answer to a shareholder’s question that buying into USG wasn’t one of his “brilliant ideas,” stating:

“On USG we owned a very significant percentage like 30%. USG overall has been disappointing because the gypsum business has been disappointing. I think they went bankrupt twice because they had too much debt. It has not been a brilliant investment. If gypsum went up to what it was some years on the past, we would have done a lot better. Gypsum has taken a real dive several times and there has been too much gypsum capacity, and when it comes back the management have been not only of use but have gotten more optimistic than they should have. It’s a business where the supply has been significantly greater than the demand in a lot of years. You’ve seen housing starts since 2008-9 not come back anywhere near where people anticipated, so gypsum prices have not moved up dramatically. So just put that one down as not one of our brilliant ideas. Not a disaster.”

Perhaps with USG again in play, it just got brilliant again.

© 2018 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: Bolt-On Acquisitions Continue to Power Berkshire’s Growth

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

With the price of acquiring large businesses high, Berkshire Hathaway has been hard-pressed to spend down its $116 billion cash hoard on a major acquisition or two. Its proposed $143 billion Unilever bid, made in conjunction with 3G Capital Partners, fell on deaf ears, and other than an agreement to acquire Pilot and Flying J travel centers, the big fish have remained elusive.

However, Berkshire’s bolt-on acquisitions, which add capability and value to its existing businesses, have continued unabated, and were highlighted by Warren Buffett in his annual letter to shareholders.

In the letter, Buffett noted some of the larger acquisitions.

“Clayton Homes acquired two builders of conventional homes during 2017, a move that more than doubled our presence in a field we entered only three years ago. With these additions – Oakwood Homes in Colorado and Harris Doyle in Birmingham – I expect our 2018 site built volume will exceed $1 billion.

Clayton’s emphasis, nonetheless, remains manufactured homes, both their construction and their financing. In 2017 Clayton sold 19,168 units through its own retail operation and wholesaled another 26,706 units to independent retailers.

All told, Clayton accounted for 49% of the manufactured-home market last year. That industry-leading share – about three times what our nearest competitor did – is a far cry from the 13% Clayton achieved in 2003, the year it joined Berkshire.

Both Clayton Homes and PFJ are based in Knoxville, where the Clayton and Haslam families have long been friends. Kevin Clayton’s comments to the Haslams about the advantages of a Berkshire affiliation, and his admiring comments about the Haslam family to me, helped cement the PFJ deal.

Near the end of 2016, Shaw Industries, our floor coverings business, acquired U.S. Floors (“USF”), a rapidly growing distributor of luxury vinyl tile. USF’s managers, Piet Dossche and Philippe Erramuzpe, came out of the gate fast, delivering a 40% increase in sales in 2017, during which their operation was integrated with Shaw’s. It’s clear that we acquired both great human assets and business assets in making the USF purchase.

Vance Bell, Shaw’s CEO, originated, negotiated and completed this acquisition, which increased Shaw’s sales to $5.7 billion in 2017 and its employment to 22,000. With the purchase of USF, Shaw has substantially strengthened its position as an important and durable source of earnings for Berkshire.

I have told you several times about HomeServices, our growing real estate brokerage operation. Berkshire backed into this business in 2000 when we acquired a majority interest in MidAmerican Energy (now named Berkshire Hathaway Energy). MidAmerican’s activities were then largely in the electric utility field, and I originally paid little attention to HomeServices.

But, year-by-year, the company added brokers and, by the end of 2016, HomeServices was the second-largest brokerage operation in the country – still ranking, though, far behind the leader, Realogy. In 2017, however, HomeServices’ growth exploded. We acquired the industry’s third-largest operator, Long and Foster; number 12, Houlihan Lawrence; and Gloria Nilson.

With those purchases we added 12,300 agents, raising our total to 40,950. HomeServices is now close to leading the country in home sales, having participated (including our three acquisitions pro-forma) in $127 billion of “sides” during 2017. To explain that term, there are two “sides” to every transaction; if we represent both buyer and seller, the dollar value of the transaction is counted twice.

Despite its recent acquisitions, HomeServices is on track to do only about 3% of the country’s home-brokerage business in 2018. That leaves 97% to go. Given sensible prices, we will keep adding brokers in this most fundamental of businesses.

Finally, Precision Castparts, a company built through acquisitions, bought Wilhelm Schulz GmbH, a German maker of corrosion resistant fittings, piping systems and components.”

But Wait, There’s More!

Sometimes Berkshire’s bolt-on acquisitions get little attention. Such was the case in the summer of 2017, when Berkshire acquired Warren, Michigan-based MRO distributor Production Tool Supply, and created a new wholesale division, Berkshire eSupply.

At the time, the company was ranked 34th on Industrial Distribution’s 2017 Big 50 List.

And the Bolt-On Acquisitions Continue in 2018

QS Partners, the aircraft brokerage subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets, acquired aircraft brokers Cerretani Aviation Group of Boulder, Colorado.

Berkshire’s Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, a financier of manufactured and modular homes, acquired Silverton Mortgage. Silverton Mortgage has 22 locations and is licensed in Alabama, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

And, Berkshire’s Marmon Holdings acquired Sonnax Industries, Inc. and formed a newly-created subsidiary called Sonnax Transmission Company. Sonnax is an industry leader in the cutting edge design, manufacture and distribution of the highest quality products to the automotive aftermarket, commercial vehicle industries, and industrial sectors utilizing drivetrain technology.

So, if you think that Berkshire Hathaway is sitting still, think again.

© 2018 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: Death of Retail? Grandscape Says Not So Fast

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

“Retail is dead,” proclaims just about every financial headline these days, but Berkshire Hathaway continues to prove that wrong as it builds out Grandscape, a 400+ acre development featuring over 3 million square feet of retail, entertainment, dining, residential, office and attractions.

Anchored by Berkshire’s Nebraska Furniture Mart, which alone takes up 100 acres and has a 560,000 square foot retail showroom, Grandscape continues to use the bigger is better philosophy.

It’s a philosophy that’s attractive to other retailers that don’t want to simply bemoan the death of the bricks-and-mortar retail experience as a casualty of the internet.

The latest retailer to break ground at the development is SCHEELS, which is constructing a two-level, 331,000 square foot building that will be the largest All Sports Store in the world.

“After more than 10 years studying the Texas market, we found a great location to build our largest store yet,” said Steve D. Scheel, SCHEELS Chairman of the Board. “This one-of-a-kind retail adventure will attract sports enthusiasts, outdoor explorers and shoppers seeking a wide variety of fashion, footwear and homegoods. We are excited to bring our expertise and enthusiasm to Texas for the first time.”

In keeping with the trend to make shopping more experiential, SCHEELS will have a 65-foot, 16-car operating Ferris Wheel, a 16,000-gallon saltwater aquarium with more than 600 fish, and a wildlife mountain. Shoppers will get the chance to try out interactive arcade games and sports simulators.

Berkshire continues to believe in the retail experience, even as it is forced to evolve from the days of strip malls and malls with department stores as anchor tenants, and its $1.5 billion investment in Grandscape shows its putting its money where its mouth is.

© 2018 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: Berkshire Gives Up on Enormous Australian Gas Field

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

The defining characteristic of any mirage is that the closer you think you are to it, the further away it seems to get.

Sadly, in what is sure to be a major disappointment for Berkshire Hathaway, after years of work its CalEnergy subsidiary is planning to decommission two exploration wells which have been used to test the potential for natural gas production in the Whicher Range, south of Busselton.

The gas field had been estimated to contain four trillion cubic feet of gas-in-place.

The problem has always been how to get it.

CalEnergy is the sole titleholder and operator of the exploration permit EP 408 located approximately 280 kilometers south of Perth, and covers both the Whicher Range and Wonnerup gas fields.

The test wells, WR1 and WR4, will be sealed with concrete and the well heads removed.

The land immediately around the well locations will be rehabilitated in line with conditions to be set out by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.

In 2016, Peter Youngs, the Managing Director of CalEnergy Resources Group, discussed with MazorsEdge the progress on the development of the gas field, noting that “the field represents a large in place gas resource, its characteristics are challenging and there is much work still remaining to move this resource to a commercially developable status.”

Unfortunately, those obstacles proved to be too much to surmount.

© 2018 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: Energizer’s Purchase of Spectrum Brands Battery Division Increases Competition for Berkshire’s Duracell

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

The announcement that Energizer Holdings, Inc. has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Spectrum Brands’ Global Battery and Portable Lighting Business for $2.0 billion in cash means increased competition for Berkshire Hathaway’s Duracell Batteries.

The acquisition puts the Varta and Rayovac brands into Energizer’s product portfolio.

Spectrum Batteries generated 2017 revenue and EBITDA of $866 million and $169 million, respectively.

The acquisition price represents a transaction multiple of 7.5 times Fiscal 2017 EBITDA, net of tax benefits with a net present value of approximately $100 million and including estimated run-rate synergies of $80 to $100 million and the costs to achieve.

The transaction is expected to deliver modest accretion to Energizer’s adjusted earnings per share and free cash flow in the first year, excluding one-time transaction and integration costs, and will achieve additional favorable accretive impacts following our realization of targeted synergies.

“The acquisition of Spectrum Batteries represents a compelling strategic, operational, and financial fit for Energizer,” said Alan R. Hoskins, Chief Executive Officer of Energizer. “The combination will enable us to leverage Spectrum Brands’ manufacturing assets, significantly expand our international business and enhance our long-term brand building capabilities as we broaden our portfolio with the Varta and Rayovac brands and our geographies with Spectrum Batteries’ passionate global colleagues. We have great respect for Spectrum Batteries and the strong business its colleagues have built, and are excited to bring together the talented colleagues from around the globe from both organizations to drive our business to new heights. In addition, the top-line and free cash flow growth from this acquisition, combined with the opportunity to realize meaningful synergies, will further enhance our ability to drive long-term shareholder value.”

Energizer intends to fund the acquisition through a combination of existing cash and committed debt facilities, expected to consist of a new term loan and senior notes.

As for Berkshire’s Duracell, it will still be the biggest player in the alkaline battery market. Sales of Duracell batteries in the U.S. alone topped $1 billion in 2016, eclipsing Eveready’s and Rayovac’s combined sales.

© 2018 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: Strong 2017 Sales for Duracell Show the Continued Utility of the Alkaline Battery

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Berkshire Hathaway’s battery-maker Duracell, which it acquired from Procter & Gamble in 2016, is proving the continued value of tried and true alkaline batteries.

While much of the focus in the press these days is on lithium-ion and nickel-metal-hydride batteries, and the search for batteries with more exotic chemistries, the trusty alkaline battery, which was first patented by Union Carbide in 1960, has continued to be a big sales winner.

According to reports, Duracell’s third quarter sales rose 6 percent year-to-year from 2016, as the demand for alkaline batteries continues to grow.

Sales of Duracell batteries in the U.S. alone topped $1 billion in 2016, eclipsing its major competitor brands, Eveready and Rayovac, combined sales.

Alkaline Batteries Essential During Disasters

The 2017 hurricane season that devastated the Caribbean, Florida and Houston, Texas, showed that rechargeable batteries are of limited use when the power grid goes off-line for weeks or months. They also have the downside of energy loss when stored long term. Durable alkaline batteries, which have a storage life of over 10 years, have an important place in helping people prepare for and recover from disasters.

It was a point that Duracell was able to make through its own disaster relief teams.

In Puerto Rico, Duracell’s PowerForward teams have been on the ground across the island. Its emergency response teams have given out tens of thousands of batteries, and provide charging stations through their specially outfitted vehicles. The vehicles are delivering more than $1 million worth of batteries, making this the program’s largest deployment to date.

Duracell’s PowerForward fleet consists of five trucks, custom-designed to handle specific disasters, and strategically stationed to get to any U.S. location within 24 hours. Each one is equipped with mobile charging stations and stocked with thousands of Duracell batteries.

In Puerto Rico, Duracell deployed two of its highest capacity vehicles. The Heavy Haulers pull trailers that help them transport over 100,000 AA batteries – more than any other vehicle in the fleet. Normally, one is stationed in San Francisco, California while another is kept in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. These trucks specialize in handling earthquakes, floods, landslides, wildfires, hurricanes and winter storms.

The Battery for Everyday Use

While natural disasters draw attention to the continued usefulness of alkaline batteries, for most of us it is their continued utility for more mundane needs, such as toys, electronic devices, and smoke detectors where their low cost, long storage life, and durability win out.

And Berkshire’s got the sales revenue to prove it.

© 2018 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.