Category Archives: Warren Buffett

Commentary: Berkshire Finally Has Smooth Driving in Texas

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Berkshire Hathaway, a company that does a Texas-sized amount of business in Texas, including being the home state for BNSF Railway, had an unexpected bump in the road created by its 2015 acquisition of the Van Tuyl Group.

Berkshire bought the auto dealership group for $4.1 billion after company CEO Larry Van Tuyl approached Berkshire in late-2014 and proposed the acquisition.

Unfortunately for Berkshire, Texas state law prohibited owning dealerships if you manufacture vehicles, something Berkshire does through its wholly-owned Forest River, Inc., a leading manufacturer of RVs and small buses.

Van Tuyl Group, which was rechristened Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, ran afoul of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles when in 2017 the Department decided to look at whether Berkshire Hathaway was violating state law and might be subject to fines.

Berkshire Hathaway Automotive CEO Jeff Rachor testified before State Sen. Kelly Hancock’s committee that applying the law to auto dealerships because of owning a motorhome manufacturer was an “unintended consequence.”

Unfortunately, Texas regulators didn’t relent and Berkshire’s first push at a legislative fix, which included some glad-handing by Warren Buffet himself, came up empty when the Tea Party coalition helped kill a bill to fix the problem.

Fast forward a couple of years and cooler heads have prevailed.

This time, the bill State Sen. Hancock sponsored, SB 1415, passed, and Gov. Greg Abbott has signed it into law.

The new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, 2019, means that manufacturers are now only prohibited from owning dealerships that sell the same vehicles that they produce, which is not something that Berkshire Hathaway Automotive Group does.

Problem solved, and Warren Buffet can now breath a Texas-sized sigh of relief.

© 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: Has the Time Finally Come for Berkshire to Cash Out of Axalta?

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Has the time finally come for Berkshire Hathaway to cash out of its minority position in Axalta?

Back in 2015, Berkshire Hathaway acquired roughly 10% minority stake in Axalta Coating Systems from The Carlyle Group for $560 million, or $28.00 per share. Axalta is a leading global coatings provider for vehicles and industrial applications.

Since that time it’s watched its investment flounder, as the Philadelphia-based Axalta fought off being acquired by PPG, and spurned another potential merger with Dutch coatings company Akzo Nobel.

Nippon Paint was another company that was interested in Axalta, only to have the company reject a $9.1 billion all-cash bid that it made near the end of 2017.

2017 was also a year of internal turmoil for the company. Axalta parted ways with its newly hired CEO, Terrence Hahn, after only five weeks on the job. The dismissal came after an internal investigation turned up conduct that Axalta “believes was inconsistent with company policies.”

Chief financial officer Robert Bryant took over as CEO and remains in that position today.

Apparently, Axalta was a company unwilling to be taken over by anyone.

Now, Axalta finally seems ready to enhance shareholder value, and a takeover has become more likely.

“Axalta’s Board is committed to maximizing value for all shareholders and has initiated a comprehensive review of strategic alternatives, including a potential sale of the Company, changes in capital allocation, and ongoing execution of our strategic plan,” according to Axalta director Mark Garrett.

With a sale of the company finally on its board’s agenda, could this be the time for Buffett to finally get something for his investment?

Nippon Paint, PPG, and Akzo Nobel are all among the potential players, and the market has quickly recognized that this time may finally be different for Axalta.

Axalta (AXTA) closed on Friday at $29.99, making Berkshire’s stake worth $727,677,360. And it’s now trading above its 52-week high of $30.94 in Friday’s after-hours trading.

Hopefully there’s more good news to come.

Finally.

© 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.

Todd Combs and Ted Weschler’s Portfolios Continue to Grow

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, the former hedge fund managers that Warren Buffett hired to manage a portion of Berkshire Hathaway’s stock portfolios, have continued to see their portfolios grow.

Combs was hired in 2010, and Weschler was hired in 2011, and each was initially given a billion dollar portfolio to separately manage. Over the past five years, Buffett has increased their portfolios as he has grown confident in their abilities. The portfolios have now reached $13 billion each, according to Buffett’s recent comment on CNBC.

Warren Buffett says Berkshire stock managers Weschler, Combs have trailed the S&P 500 from CNBC.

Berkshire’s total stock holdings total a whopping $183 billion, according to its most recent 13-F filing.

As Warren Buffett’s handpicked protégés, Buffett has praised their success, noting that “They have made Berkshire billions already that we wouldn’t have otherwise made,” he said on CNBC in 2014. “They both have a fundamental combination of soundness and brilliance.”

While Buffett notes that this past year “Overall, they are a tiny bit behind the S&P, each, by almost the same margin,” Buffett acknowledged to Becky Quick on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that they were still doing better than he was.

More than Just Portfolio Managers

In addition to portfolio management, Combs sits on the Boards of companies that Berkshire holds sizable stakes in. Combs is on the Board of JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Paytm, and he also is playing a key role in the Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan Chase healthcare joint venture, having been charged with finding the project’s CEO.

It was also Combs’s belief in aerospace manufacturer Precision Castparts that directly led to Buffett’s $32 billion acquisition of the company.

“You have to give Todd Combs credit for the deal,” Buffett said, noting that he had never heard of the company before Combs brought it to his attention. ”Todd told me a lot about it, and over the last few years I have become familiar with it,” he added.

Another winner was Combs and Weschler’s positions in DirecTV in 2014. The satellite broadcaster’s acquisition by AT&T brought an over $3 billion windfall for Berkshire, as its 4.5 million shares were purchased at roughly half the tender price of $95 per share offered by AT&T.

When the day come that the entire Berkshire portfolio is in Todd Combs and Ted Weschler’s hands, Berkshire’s shareholders will be able to sleep well at night knowing it is well-managed.

© 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: Here’s One Big Thing to Like in Buffett’s Annual Letter

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Warren Buffett may be frustrated that he can’t find any “elephants” to acquire, but he did give hope to Berkshire investors that there is one elephant-sized company that he would love to own more of, Berkshire Hathaway.

In his just released Annual Letter to Shareholders, Buffett stated “it is likely that – over time – Berkshire will be a significant repurchaser of its shares…”

While Buffett made no mention of paying a dividend, which is something he has been negative on in the past, he is clearly willing to put more of Berkshire’s $112 billion in cash into stock buybacks if the price is right.

It’s a process that’s already begun.

In the 3rd quarter of 2018, Berkshire bought back $928 million of its stock, which brought the 2018 total to more than $1.3 billion.

Now, with no big acquisition moves on the horizon, Buffett seems to be warming even more to the idea.

Remember, he stated that in future buybacks Berkshire would be a “significant repurchaser.”

Does this indicate that future buybacks could be substantially larger than what we saw last year?

It all comes down to price, and whether in Buffett’s opinion Berkshire is trading below its intrinsic value.

“If the market prices a departing partner’s interest at, say, 90¢ on the dollar, continuing shareholders reap an increase in per-share intrinsic value with every repurchase by the company,” Buffett explained.

“Assuming that we buy at a discount to Berkshire’s intrinsic value – which certainly will be our intention – repurchases will benefit both those shareholders leaving the company and those who stay,” Buffett said.

Ever cautious, Buffett is only interested in buybacks if they create value for shareholders, noting that “Blindly buying an overpriced stock is value destructive, a fact lost on many promotional or ever-optimistic CEOs.”

In his letter, Buffett also highlighted how over the years stock repurchases of some of the minority stakes Berkshire holds have given it an increasing share of those companies without spending a dime.

He pointed out that “Berkshire’s holdings of American Express have remained unchanged over the past eight years. Meanwhile, our ownership increased from 12.6% to 17.9% because of repurchases made by the company. Last year, Berkshire’s portion of the $6.9 billion earned by American Express was $1.2 billion, about 96% of the $1.3 billion we paid for our stake in the company. When earnings increase and shares outstanding decrease, owners – over time – usually do well.”

And over time, as Berkshire increases its own buybacks, hopefully shareholders will do well too.

© 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.

Berkshire Hathaway Exits Home Capital Position

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Berkshire Hathaway is substantially exiting its position in Canadian alternative lender Home Capital Group following the completion of the company’s Substantial Issuer Bid process.

In 2017, Berkshire invested in the company and provided financing that helped stabilize the lender, however, shareholders thwarted its plans for more extensive ownership.

“We are delighted to see Home Capital back on its feet with healthy liquidity and a solid capital position,” Warren Buffett said in a statement. “In June of 2017, when some were questioning Home’s staying power, Berkshire agreed to lend the Company $2 billion. The team at Home was a pleasure to deal with and have worked to thoughtfully strengthen Home over the last 18 months. As part of the loan commitment Berkshire also committed to provide $400 million of equity financing to Home – $153 million with the funding of the credit line and an additional $247 million contingent upon shareholder approval; shareholders did not approve the additional investment and, as a result (coupled with a full repayment of Berkshire’s credit line) Berkshire’s investment in Home is now not of a size to justify our ongoing involvement. Although we have decided to substantially exit from our investment, we will continue to cheer from the sidelines for our friends at Home.”

© 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.

Berkshire Hathaway Powers Ahead with Rising Profits, Stock Buy-Back

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Berkshire Hathaway’s operating profits soared in the third quarter of 2018, as quarterly operating profit was almost double from 2017.

For the 9 months of 2018 the net earnings attributable to Berkshire shareholders reached $29.413 as compared to $12.389 billion for the first 9 months of 2017.

Insurance underwriting income was one of the drivers of the growth, generating $441 million in the third quarter, versus a loss of $1.4 billion in the year-ago period.

The company also posted strong revenues in its railroad, utilities and energy, and its other businesses.

Berkshire’s enormous minority positions in a slew of leading corporations, including Apple, Southwest Airlines, General Motors, Bank of America, American Express, and Wells Fargo, grew by almost $12 billion.

Berkshire also reported that its insurance float had grown to $118 billion, an increase of $2 billion over the end of the second quarter.

The conglomerate also revealed that Warren Buffett had Berkshire repurchase over $928 Million in Berkshire Stock.

The move was the first buy-back since 2012 and confirms Buffett’s position that the shares are undervalued.

© 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.

Revised Berkshire Hathaway Stock Repurchase Program Makes Stock Buyback More Likely

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

In a move that makes a Berkshire Hathaway stock buyback much more likely, the Board of Directors of Berkshire Hathaway has authorized an amendment to Berkshire’s share repurchase program.

The earlier share repurchase program provided that the price paid for repurchases would not exceed a 20% premium over the then-current book value of such shares.

Under the amendment adopted by the Board of Directors, share repurchases can be made at any time that both Warren Buffett, Berkshire’s Chairman and CEO, and Charlie Munger, a Berkshire Vice Chairman, believe that the repurchase price is below Berkshire’s intrinsic value, conservatively determined.

The current policy whereby share repurchases will not be made if they would reduce the value of Berkshire’s consolidated cash, cash equivalents and U.S. Treasury Bills holdings below $20 billion will continue. Berkshire will not initiate any share repurchases under the amended program until it publicly releases its second quarter earnings, currently scheduled after the close of the markets on Friday, August 3, 2018.

© 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.

Buffett Converts Shares, Makes Multi-Billion Charitable Donations

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Warren Buffett is a generous guy. He’s made a massive fortune and now he’s giving much of it away. Buffett has converted 11,867 of his Class A shares into 17,800,500 Class B shares.

Of these Class B shares, 17,696,780 have been donated to five foundations: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, Sherwood Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation and NoVo Foundation. These shares have a current value of $3.4 billion.

Buffett has never sold any shares of Berkshire. With the current gift, however, about 43% of his 2006 holdings have been given to the five foundations.

Their value at the time of the gifts, including the 2018 gift, totals about $31 billion.

Buffett is following his plan to have all of his Berkshire shares given to philanthropy through annual gifts that will be completed ten years after his estate is settled. In all cases, his A shares will first be converted into B shares immediately prior to the gift.

© 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.