Category Archives: Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett Wishes For Five More Lubrizols

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If there is any one of Berkshire Hathaway’s companies that Warren Buffett would love to find another of it would have to be Lubrizol Corporation.

Berkshire acquired the specialty chemical manufacturer in 2011 for $9.7 billion, and it has played an important role in Berkshire’s profits.

“Lubrizol is the second largest in terms of earnings so it’s a very important asset to Berkshire,” Buffett noted during a recent visit to Lubrizol’s headquarters in Wickliffe, Ohio. “Up until the acquisition of Precision Cast Parts [it was] the largest industrial operation we have.”

Lubrizol’s growth, which since being acquired by Berkshire has included the acquisition of Particle Science, the opening of a chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) compounding plant in Dahej, India, and assuming the Indian government’s stake in Lubrizol India Pvt Ltd., and more.

“It’s a terrific business and it’s big, and only gets bigger,” Buffet said.

With Berkshire size matters, as small acquisitions don’t make much difference in the profits of a company the size that Berkshire has grown to. Over the past decade, Berkshire has added not only Lubrizol, but also BNSF Railway, Precision Castparts, battery-maker Duracell, and a hefty chunk of Kraft Heinz to its portfolio.

While individual Berkshire companies can grow through smaller acquisitions in the millions, tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions, those size acquisitions don’t make sense for Berkshire if they are stand-alone entities. Berkshire has to add companies with billions in market cap in order to make a difference.

Companies of Lubrizol’s size are in the range that Buffett looks for with his famed “elephant gun.”

“It’s a huge advantage to be large too in terms of moving the needle on $400 billion of market cap.” Buffett noted, referring to Berkshire’s overall size.

Buffett’s a willing buyer, but companies such as Lubrizol are not on every corner.

“I wish we had five more and they’re hard, they are very hard to find,” Buffet said. “They take decades and decades to build.”

Buffett’s reputation as a long term owner of companies who keeps key management in place is one the things that makes becoming a Berkshire company attractive. The other is no longer having to be a slave to quarterly earnings reports. Just ask the folks at BNSF Railway how much easier it is to allocate capital now that they have been freed of that burden.

“We want Berkshire to be a wonderful collection of businesses over time, because we’re not going to sell them. It isn’t like we are going to keep culling the herd.”

If you can find Buffett another Lubrizol he’s certainly ready to thank you.

“Find me another Lubrizol, I’ll send flowers to your wife on her birthday,” Buffett adds. And he means it.

© 2017 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: Could Pepsi become a Berkshire Brand?

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It‘s no secret that Warren Buffett is partial to Coca-Cola, after all he not only drinks 5 Cokes a day, but Berkshire Hathaway owns 400 million shares of Coca-Cola stock valued at roughly $16.5 billion.

“I’m one quarter Coca-Cola,” Warren Buffett has joked.

However, with Berkshire and 3G Capital having been rebuffed in their $143 billion bid for Unilever Plc, one important analyst thinks PepsiCo, Inc. might be a logical target for the expansion of Kraft Heinz.

Pablo Zuanic, the Senior Analyst covering the Food, Beverage, and Household/Personal Care sectors for Susquehanna Financial Group, thinks Pepsi might quench Berkshire and 3G’s thirst for acquisitions.

Zuanic’s bona fides as an analyst have seen him recognized by Institutional Investor as the #1 Latin American Food & Beverage analyst for two consecutive years, the #4 US Food Analyst, and the #3 US Food Analyst in their Alpha Poll of Hedge Funds.

PepsiCo, Inc., which has a market capitalization of almost $161 billion, not only has one of the most popular soft drink brands in the world, but also owns snack-maker Frito-Lay and juice company Tropicana.

Zuanic recently raised his Pepsi price target from $118 to $132 on speculation that Kraft Heinz could team with Anheuser-Busch for the bid. The stock is currently just over $112 a share.

It seems logical that a bid for PepsiCo would see the beverages added to Anheuser-Busch, and the snack foods added to Kraft Heinz.

Zuanic notes that in his opinion Pepsi shares trade at a substantial discount when compared to Coca-Cola.

“PEP shares have lost visibility and now trade at a 25% discount to KO on apples-to-apples comps.” writes Zuanic.

While a Berkshire and 3G Capital bid for Pepsi might be a possibility, don’t expect to hear Buffett say “I’m one quarter Pepsi,” anytime soon.

© 2017 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 Keeps Getting Valentines from Phillips 66

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“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” wrote poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The same could be said by Warren Buffet when it comes to an energy sector company that is clearly dear to his heart.

If there is one company in the oil and gas sector that Warren Buffett especially loves, it is Houston-based Phillips 66, an energy manufacturing and logistics company with a portfolio of integrated businesses: Midstream, Chemicals, Refining, and Marketing and Specialties.

Back in early 2014, Berkshire swapped a large portion of its previous Phillips 66 position for the company’s chemical business unit, which was added to Berkshire’s specialty chemical maker Lubrizol.

“We were able to do that on a tax-advantage basis. We didn’t trade them because we didn’t like the stock,” Warren Buffett said at the time on CNBC’s Squawk Alley.

“I had always intended on coming back in, assuming that the price was right.”

By mid-2015, Buffett was back in and Berkshire revealed that it had accumulated 58 million shares of stock.

That position Has Only Grown

Buffett’s love of Phillips 66 has continued unabated, as he added to the position throughout 2016.

As of its last filing, Berkshire Hathaway now owns $6.4 billion of Phillips 66 stock, which works out to around 15.67% of the company. Berkshire is the largest institutional owner.

Why does Buffett love Phillips 66?

First of all, the company’s diversified businesses make it a leader in refining (it owns 13 refineries), marketing (it sells fuel In the U.S. under the Phillips 66, Conoco and 76 brands), and Midstream operations. Its Midstream operations gathers, processes, transports and markets natural gas, and transports, fractionates and markets natural gas liquids in the United States. Phillips 66 also manufactures and markets petrochemicals and plastics worldwide.

Phillips 66’s diversified businesses has given it relative stability in the face of recent slumps on crude oil prices, and the stock remained strong between 2014 and 2017.

With a current dividend yield of 3.22%, the stock has been pouring cash into Berkshire, much of it through positions held by its insurance company National Indemnity.

Rising Dividends

Buffett’s love of Phillips 66 is likely to continue. Back in 2015, the company’s dividend yielded between 1.9% and 2.7%. With most of the quarters paying dividends of 56 cents a share. Since May 2016, the dividends have moved up and it has paid 63 cents a quarter for the past four quarters.

A strong stock price and a fat dividend. What’s Warren Buffett not to love?

© 2017 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.

No Forever, Buffett Says

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In Warren Buffett’s latest annual letter to shareholders, Buffett clarified his view on what are sometimes called his “forever stocks.” These refer to Berkshire’s long-held positions in Coca-Cola and American Express, among others. These represent huge holdings where the cost basis is now so low that the annual dividends in some cases equal or come near the original cost of acquisition. Often, investors assume that Buffett’s love for these stocks means that he would never sell them. That’s not true, says Buffet, and he went out of his way this year to clarify that there is no such thing as a “forever stock.”

“Sometimes the comments of shareholders or media imply that we will own certain stocks “forever.” It is true that we own some stocks that I have no intention of selling for as far as the eye can see (and we’re talking 20/20 vision). But we have made no commitment that Berkshire will hold any of its marketable securities forever.”

© 2017 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.

Two Important Things We Learned from Buffett’s Latest Shareholders Letter

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Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders came out on Saturday morning, and as usual, it gave great insight into Buffett’s outlook on both Berkshire Hathaway, investing, and his view on the prospects for the American economy.

Here’s two important things we learned:

Buffett is Bullish on the American Economy

Through recessions, and even the recent Great Recession, Warren Buffett has remained bullish on the prospects of the American economy. Competition from China, India or the EU, has not dimmed his optimism, and looking back historically, he still believes there is no better time to have been born into the American economy than today.

“This economic creation will deliver increasing wealth to our progeny far into the future. Yes, the build-up of wealth will be interrupted for short periods from time to time. It will not, however, be stopped. I’ll repeat what I’ve both said in the past and expect to say in future years: Babies born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.”

Buffett Believes that Overall, Hedge Funds Have Sold Snake Oil to Wealthy Investors and Pension Funds

Expanding on a presentation he gave at the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, Buffett again made clear that the high fees charged by Hedge fund managers made it inevitable that overall, they would underperform a simple low-fee S&P 500 index fund. He attributes the siren song that draws the wealthy and pension funds to active management is due to a mistaken belief that you get what you pay for.

“The wealthy are accustomed to feeling that it is their lot in life to get the best food, schooling, entertainment, housing, plastic surgery, sports ticket, you name it. Their money, they feel, should buy them something superior compared to what the masses receive. In many aspects of life, indeed, wealth does command top-grade products or services. For that reason, the financial “elites” – wealthy individuals, pension funds, college endowments and the like – have great trouble meekly signing up for a financial product or service that is available as well to people investing only a few thousand dollars. This reluctance of the rich normally prevails even though the product at issue is –on an expectancy basis – clearly the best choice. My calculation, admittedly very rough, is that the search by the elite for superior investment advice has caused it, in aggregate, to waste more than $100 billion over the past decade. Figure it out: Even a 1% fee on a few trillion dollars adds up. Of course, not every investor who put money in hedge funds ten years ago lagged S&P returns. But I believe my calculation of the aggregate shortfall is conservative.”

© 2017 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.

Fruit of the Loom Names Melissa Burgess-Taylor New Chairman & CEO

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Berkshire Hathaway’s Fruit of the Loom has announced the appointment of Melissa Burgess-Taylor as the company’s new Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

Ms. Burgess-Taylor is currently the Senior Vice President of Brand Management and Sales for Fruit of the Loom and Vanity Fair Brands. She has been with the company more than 17 years focusing on the interests of Fruit of the Loom employees and customers while delivering meaningful results.

Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, addressed the Fruit of the Loom leadership team today following the unexpected passing of Rick Medlin last week.

“Rick lived and breathed Fruit of the Loom, and he was an inspirational leader to everyone associated with the company. He will be greatly missed. His contributions were significant and his legacy will continue through the success of Fruit of the Loom and the employees.” Mr. Buffett continued, “I am excited to have Melissa take on this important role as CEO. Already an accomplished Fruit of the Loom leader, she is passionate, smart, and cares deeply about Fruit of the Loom customers and employees. She understands the importance of building a great brand, and she’ll add tremendous value to Fruit of the Loom going forward.”

“I’ve been fortunate to be a member of the Fruit of the Loom family and this great company for many years. We have succeeded due to our people, our strong brands and the powerful relationships we have with our customers,” stated Ms. Burgess-Taylor. “I am grateful for Mr. Medlin’s strong leadership and mentorship, and I am deeply committed to continuing to move us forward.”

Ms. Burgess-Taylor has held various leadership roles within the organization. In her current role, she leads Marketing, Merchandising, Sales, Brand Communications and Creative Services for Fruit of the Loom, Vanity Fair, Lily of France, Vassarette and Curvation brands. Prior to joining Fruit of the Loom, Ms. Burgess-Taylor held roles with Hanes Brands and Mercantile Department Stores. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing with a minor in textiles and clothing from Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky., and currently resides in Bowling Green with her husband and two children.

© 2016 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.

Warren Buffett’s Greatest Insurance Investment

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What was Warren Buffett’s greatest insurance investment? Was it the purchase of GEICO? How about National Indemnity?

According to Buffett, it was none of those. It was the hiring of Ajit Jain.

In an interview with Best’s Review, Warren Buffett says he made one of his best investments when he chose Ajit Jain to run his reinsurance business nearly 30 years ago. Jain, who is considered one of the front-runners to succeed Buffett as the head of Berkshire Hathaway, is one of the insurance leaders profiled in the July issue.

Jain was hired by Buffett in 1986, and at the time he was 35-years-old and had little experience in the reinsurance business.

Today, Jain is one of Buffett’s most trusted managers, having built Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group into a reinsurance insurance powerhouse with $44 billion in float.

In April, he was given additional duties overseeing Gen Re after CEO Tad Montross retired.

Sounds like a good investment indeed.

© 2016 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 Warm, Munger Cool on Initiating a Stock Buyback

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At the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting in April, Warren Buffett expressed enthusiasm for a potential stock buyback of Berkshire stock if the share price fell below 120% of book value. He noted that the company would repurchase “a lot” of stock, especially if the amount of cash the company generates “burns a hole in your pocket” and grows to levels over $100-$120 million with no good candidates for acquisition.

In the past, Buffett has been skeptical of shareholder demands for stock buybacks, noting that it’s foolish if the price is too high. All the way back in 2000, Buffett addressed the logic of stock buybacks, noting:

“There is only one combination of facts that makes it advisable for a company to repurchase its shares: First, the company has available funds — cash plus sensible borrowing capacity — beyond the near-term needs of the business and, second, finds its stock selling in the market below its intrinsic value, conservatively calculated.”

However, also at the 2016 Annual Meeting, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Charlie Munger still seemed less than convinced.

“These buyback plans got a life of their own, Munger noted. “It’s gotten quite common to buy back stock at very high prices that really don’t do the shareholders any good at all. I don’t know why people exactly are doing it and I think it gets to be fashionable.

We’re always behaving a lot like what some might call the Episcopal Prayer. We prayerfully thank the Lord that we’re not like these other religions who are inferior and I’m afraid there’s probably too much of that in Berkshire but we can’t help it.”

© 2016 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.

Low Interest Rates Cut Value of Berkshire’s Insurance Float

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With the advent of unprecedented negative interest rates in Japan and the Eurozone, the value of Berkshire Hathaway’s insurance float is diminished.

Europe’s central banks have slashed interest rates below zero, and at the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, Warren Buffet noted the moves have rewritten Aesop’s ancient adage that a “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Buffett noted that right now “a bird in the hand is worth 9/10s of a bird in the bush.”

Cheap money has also driven up the costs of Berkshire’s acquisitions, as competitors’ access to capital diminishes one of Berkshire’s key advantages.

Even with Berkshire having just closed on its $32 billion acquisition of aerospace manufacturer Precision Castparts, the company is heading back towards having $40 billion at the ready for acquisitions.

“We have excess cash everywhere at Berkshire,”  Buffett said, as he emphasized that he was ready to put it to work buying more large companies. “We would love to find another three or four types of Precision Castparts.”

With all its cash at the ready for acquisitions, Berkshire still maintains a reserve of $20 billion in case of economic downturns or other needs.

© 2016 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 Gives Mixed Signals on AmEx Stake

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Warren Buffett has long regarded Berkshire Hathaway’s stake in American Express like he views his stake in Coca Cola. It’s one of his “forever stocks.”

With American Express having struggled in recent years, including losing its co-branded relationship with Costco, the question is whether forever is really forever, or just a long time.

Costco’s jump to Visa is expected to take a big bite out of AmEx revenues, as it represented a whopping 8% of total billed credit card charges.

“I personally feel OK about American Express, and I’m happy to own it,” Buffett, said while taking questions at the meeting Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. He did note AmEx’s problems, stating that it “has been under attack for decades — more intensively lately — and it will continue to be under attack. It’s too big a business, and too interesting a business.”

Buffett acknowledges that banking and finance draw a lot of attention and competitors, and there is always someone trying to knock you off your pedestal.

In that regard, Charlie Munger was less sanguine about AmEx.

“Anybody in payments who’s an established long-time player with an old method has more danger than used to exist,” he said.

Buffett is loath to sell Berkshire’s stake in AmEx and Coca Cola, because the cost basis is very low, and the profits from the sales would incur billions in taxes. The positions are both so large that they would also be hard to unload without affecting share prices.

Buffett also noted that Berkshire’s fund managers Ted Weschler and Todd Combs may not be as wedded to holdings in those companies as he has been when the day comes that they take over the entire $100+ billion portfolio. Each currently manages a $9 billion portfolio.

© 2016 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.