On July 29, 2015, leading battery maker Duracell, which has been a unit of Procter & Gamble, will become wholly owned by Berkshire Hathaway.
The deal will bring Berkshire both a top consumer brand and a mountain of tax-free cash.
While Berkshire had announced that Duracell would become part of its Marmon Group of companies, a Marmon spokesman assured me that it will be an independent company that will report directly to Berkshire management.
What Kind of Company is Duracell?
Berkshire is acquiring the market leader in batteries for the home and workplace. In fact, despite P&G having planned to sell-off the unit, Duracell’s market share has grown from 48% in 2012 to 56% in 2014.
The company has highly recognizable brands that consumers in home and work settings are willing to pay more for than private label store brands. According to the company, Duracell’s CopperTop® and Quantum® command the highest average percent of spend among battery brands with 33% and 16%, respectively.
Combined, the two product lines account for close to 50% of the market.
Duracell’s growth has come at the expense of competitors Energizer and Rayovac.
Energizer has seen its market share shrink from 40% in 2012 to 36% in 2014, and Rayovac, which is a much smaller player, has seen its market share drop from 8% in 2012 to just 5% in 2014.
The total alkaline battery market in the U.S. alone is roughly $2.2 billion a year, with Duracell just over $858 million in alkaline batteries sales a year, or roughly 43% of the market.
Of the away-from-home market, healthcare/medical uses $70 million worth of batteries annually, followed closely by manufacturing, which consumes approximately $61 million worth of batteries annually.
A Changing Market
Offices and other workplaces use batteries more than ever. For decades, flashlights where the primary drivers of battery usage in away-from-home settings, but that has changed greatly in just the past few years. According to a report by Kline & Company, wireless devices, including computer mice and keyboards, topped the list in 2014 in the demand for batteries. Wireless mice were the number one use for batteries followed by clocks and remote controls. The traditional flashlight has fallen to number seven, just above smoke alarms.
A Growing Market
At the time of the announcement of Berkshire’s acquisition of Duracell, many analysts downplayed the battery market’s potential for growth. I believe that view is short-sighted, as the away-from-home battery market has not only grown 2% from 2012 to 2014, but Duracell’s share of that market has continued to grow. Batteries are more relevant than ever with the number of wireless devices proliferating.
A Proven Name, A Trusted Brand
Warren Buffett loves quality brands, be they Coca-Cola, Heinz, or Kraft. He knows that consumer brand loyalty is essential for retaining market share in commodity businesses. In Duracell, Berkshire’s getting the most trusted name in batteries.
The 2015 BrandSpark Most Trusted Awards winners for Consumer Packaged Goods brands, which were voted by more than 80,000 American consumers, chose Duracell as the most trusted battery brand.
But Wait, There’s More!
Berkshire’s not only acquiring the market leader for batteries, it’s also receiving a Mount Everest-sized bundle of tax-free cash.
Berkshire’s $4.7 billion stake in Procter & Gamble came from an original investment in Gillette of only $600 million. In cashing out its position, Berkshire not only gets control of Duracell, but Duracell has been recapitalized by P&G with $1.7 billion in cash. This allows Berkshire a transfer of cash that is three times its original investment in Gillette, and the entire $4.7 billion transaction incurs no capital gains taxes.
For Berkshire, Duracell shines brightly indeed.
© 2015 David Mazor
Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.