Category Archives: Warren Buffett

“Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut,” Says Buffett

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With 2017 a quiet year for Berkshire Hathaway’s acquisition activity, save for acquiring a 38.6% partnership interest in travel-center operator Pilot Flying J, Warren Buffett used his 2017 annual letter to shareholders to reassure that Berkshire would continue to make large acquisitions only when the price is right.

Buffett pronounced the Pilot Flying J acquisition as “sensible,” and noted that he would not join other CEOs in paying outlandish prices for companies.

“The less the prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we must conduct our own,” Buffett wrote.

“Why the purchasing frenzy? In part, it’s because the CEO job self-selects for ‘can-do’ types,” Buffett noted. “If Wall Street analysts or board members urge that brand of CEO to consider possible acquisitions, it’s a bit like telling your ripening teenager to be sure to have a normal sex life.

Once a CEO hungers for a deal, he or she will never lack for forecasts that justify the purchase. Subordinates will be cheering, envisioning enlarged domains and the compensation levels that typically increase with corporate size. Investment bankers, smelling huge fees, will be applauding as well. (Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut.) If the historical performance of the target falls short of validating its acquisition, large ‘synergies’ will be forecast. Spreadsheets never disappoint.”

© 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.

Warren Buffett on a stock buy so good, “that I’m actually starting to remember that it was my idea.”

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Berkshire Hathaway’s investment in Chinese new energy company BYD has worked out so well that it’s now among the company’s top fifteen stock holdings.

In 2008, Berkshire Hathaway bet on BYD’s potential, purchasing 225 million shares. It’s an investment that has grown almost ten-fold in just a decade.

Berkshire’s original investment of $230 million is now worth roughly $1.96 billion.

Whose idea was it to purchase a stake in the company?

“Charlie (Munger) called me one day and says, ‘We’ve got to buy BYD. This guy that runs it is better than Thomas Edison,’ Warren Buffett explained while appearing on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “And I said, ‘That isn’t good enough.’ And then he called a little later and said, ‘He’s a combination of Edison and Bill Gates.’ And I said, ‘Well, you’re warming up but it still isn’t good enough.’ Anyway, Charlie wanted to do it. Now, it’s worked out so well that I’m actually starting to remember that it was my idea. As it’s coming back to me. I think I persuaded Charlie. But unfortunately I’m on the record that it’s his deal. But BYD, Charlie’s in love with the company, and it’s done very well. And the fellow that runs it, you know who’s autos and batteries, but he’s got big, big ideas and he’s very good at executing. So, but I leave it to Charlie.”

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

© 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’s Insurance Losses from Hurricane Season ran to $3 Billion

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Last fall’s spate of three mega-catastrophe hurricanes that hit the U.S. has led to billion dollar losses for Berkshire Hathaway’s insurance companies.

“We currently estimate Berkshire’s losses from the three hurricanes to be $3 billion (or about $2 billion after tax),” Warren Buffett stated in his annual letter to shareholders. “If both that estimate and my industry estimate of $100 billion are close to accurate, our share of the industry loss was about 3%. I believe that percentage is also what we may reasonably expect to be our share of losses in future American mega-cats.”

Despite the scale of the disasters, Buffett noted that the impact on Berkshire was minor, with it reducing Berkshire’s GAAP net worth by less than 1%.

He went on to note that other reinsurers “suffered losses in net worth ranging from 7% to more than 15%.”

Buffett wrote that a mega-catastrophe hurricane that caused $400 billion in damage, which the company estimates has a 2% probability annually, would see Berkshire incurring losses in the $12 billion range.

A loss of that magnitude would in no way jeopardize the conglomerate, as it is below the annual income generated by Berkshire’s non-insurance activities.

© 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 Decries Effects of New GAAP Accounting Rule

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Warren Buffett warned in in his annual letter to shareholders that a new GAAP accounting rule on unrealized capital gains would lead to “truly wild and capricious swings in our GAAP bottom-line.”

The rule impacts Berkshire’s Hathaway’s portfolio of $170 billion in marketable stocks, not including the company’s shares of Kraft Heinz.

“For analytical purposes, Berkshire’s ‘bottom-line’ will be useless,” Buffett warned, noting that swings in Berkshire’s equity holdings could obscure the actual performance of its operating companies.

“The new rule compounds the communication problems we have long had in dealing with the realized gains (or losses) that accounting rules compel us to include in our net income,” Buffett wrote. “In past quarterly and annual press releases, we have regularly warned you not to pay attention to these realized gains, because they – just like our unrealized gains – fluctuate randomly.”

© 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’s Per Share Book Value Soared 23% in 2017

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Despite losses from three mega-catastrophe hurricanes that hit the U.S. in the fall of 2017, Berkshire Hathaway’s per share book value still rose by 23% in 2017, Warren Buffett noted in his annual letter to shareholders.

Of the total gain of $63 billion, $36 billion were generated by Berkshire’s operations, and $29 billion resulted from the impact of the recently passed tax bill.

Buffett wrote that Berkshire’s disaster-related reinsurance losses, which ran to $3 billion, reduced the company’s GAAP net worth by less than 1%.

Among the company’s ongoing operations, the 2017 earnings from BNSF Railway rose 11% over 2016 levels to roughly $4 billion, and Clayton Homes’ revenues grew to $5.0 billion in 2017, up $780 million (18%) from 2016.

© 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.

Warren Buffett Steps Down from Kraft Heinz Board of Directors

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The Kraft Heinz Company has announced that Warren Buffett will retire from the Company’s Board of Directors following the end of his term at the upcoming Kraft Heinz 2018 Annual Meeting of Stockholders.

Mr. Buffett decided to retire from the Board as he decreases his travel commitments. The Company also announced that the Board of Directors intends to nominate Alexandre Van Damme to stand for election at the 2018 Annual Meeting to fill Mr. Buffett’s vacancy.

“It has been an honor to work with Warren for the past five years,” said Alex Behring, Chairman of the Board of Directors. “His many invaluable contributions to Kraft Heinz will have a lasting impact on the Company for years to come. The Board of Directors looks forward to his continued partnership as Chairman of our largest shareholder, Berkshire Hathaway. We are thrilled to add Alexandre’s expertise and perspective to Kraft Heinz, and believe that his executive experience and leadership will be extremely valuable to the Board, our leadership and company as a whole.”

© 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.

Warren Buffett’s Annual Letter to Shareholders to be Released Saturday

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Tomorrow is the big day for Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders.

Berkshire Hathaway’s 2017 Annual Report to the shareholders will be posted on the Internet on Saturday, February 24, 2018, at approximately 8:00 a.m. eastern time where it can be accessed at www.berkshirehathaway.com.

The Annual Report will include Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders as well as information about Berkshire’s financial position and results of operations.

Concurrent with the posting of the Annual Report, Berkshire will also issue an earnings release.

© 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.

Phillips 66 and Berkshire Hathaway in Share Repurchase Agreement

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Phillips 66 has agreed to repurchase 35 million shares of Phillips 66 common stock from a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway for $93.725 per share. This $3.3 billion repurchase is expected to close on Feb. 14, 2018.

The shares had been purchased at an average price of $78.31 a share, and Berkshire’s return on its investment, excluding dividends, was roughly 20%. Currently, Phillips 66 is paying an annual dividend of 2.99%.

“We are excited to have this opportunity to return capital to our shareholders in such a meaningful way,” said Greg Garland, Chairman and CEO of Phillips 66. “This transaction benefits all of our shareholders, as it is immediately accretive to earnings per share and positive for valuation. While this highlights our dedication to shareholder distributions, our strategy remains unchanged. We are committed to running our assets safely and reliably, growing our Midstream and Chemicals businesses, enhancing our Refining and Marketing returns, and rewarding our shareholders through a secure, competitive and growing dividend along with continued share repurchases.”

This is hardly the end of Berkshire’s investment in Phillips 66.

“Phillips 66 is a great company with a diversified downstream portfolio and a strong management team,” commented Warren Buffett. “This transaction was solely motivated by our desire to eliminate the regulatory requirements that come with ownership levels above 10 percent. We remain one of Phillips 66’s largest shareholders and plan to continue to hold the stock for the long term.”

At closing of this transaction, Phillips 66 will have 466.5 million shares outstanding of which Berkshire will have an equity ownership interest in 45.7 million shares.

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.

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase Team Up on U.S. Employee Healthcare

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Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are partnering on ways to address healthcare for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs.

The three companies, which bring their scale and complementary expertise to this long-term effort, will pursue this objective through an independent company that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints. The initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.

Tackling the enormous challenges of healthcare and harnessing its full benefits are among the greatest issues facing society today. By bringing together three of the world’s leading organizations into this new and innovative construct, the group hopes to draw on its combined capabilities and resources to take a fresh approach to these critical matters.

“The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy. Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable. Rather, we share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country’s best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes,” said Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett.

“The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort. Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation.”

“Our people want transparency, knowledge and control when it comes to managing their healthcare,” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. “The three of our companies have extraordinary resources, and our goal is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans,” he added.

The effort is in its early planning stages, with the initial formation of the company jointly spearheaded by Todd Combs, an investment officer of Berkshire Hathaway; Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold, a Managing Director of JPMorgan Chase; and Beth Galetti, a Senior Vice President at Amazon. The longer-term management team, headquarters location and key operational details will be announced at a later date.

© 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.

Major Changes Coming With Abel’s and Jain’s New Roles as Vice Chairmen

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With Gregory Abel elevated to Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice Chairman – Non-Insurance Business Operations, and Ajit Jain appointed Vice Chairman – Insurance Operations, Warren Buffett has made clear that major changes are in store in the command structure of Berkshire’s operations.

While Buffett has no interest in stepping down as chairman, he is shifting the responsibility for both the bolt-on acquisitions and the setting of salaries and compensation for Berkshire’s managers to his new vice chairmen.

“They’ll decide the compensation of the people underneath,” Buffett explained in a January 10 interview on CNBC. “I mean, certain people we have compensation arrangements with that we will have in force for their lifetime because we made up at the time of acquisition, but aside from the ones that are fixed, those decisions will be theirs. And smaller bolt on acquisitions will probably be theirs if there’s a large bolt on acquisition, then Charlie and I will get involved.”

Berkshire shareholders apparently should have no fear that Buffett’s famed “elephant gun,” the term he uses for hunting for giant-sized acquisitions, will be silenced any time soon.

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.