With the recently announced acquisition of AltaLink, Berkshire Hathaway’s newly christened Berkshire Hathaway Energy has made an aggressive move into the Canadian energy market.
New Canadian Beachhead Strategy
Under the moniker MidAmerican Energy, the company’s previous Canadian energy plays consisted of joint ventures where the other partners took the lead. Now, as Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the company is going out on its own to become a leader in the growing markets of Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. It’s a move that will have BHE serving 85% of the population.
In acquiring AltaLink from SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. (TSX:SNC), BHE will take possession of 12,000 kilometers of transmission lines and 280 substations that bring electricity to 3 million Albertans. The total cost of the acquisition is C$3.2 billion, approximately US$2.9 billion.
Warren Buffett has long been known for a buy-and-hold acquisition strategy that places an emphasis on finding companies with top-flight management that is kept in place. Similarly, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, under the direction of chairman, president, and CEO Greg Abel, has the same philosophy. AltaLink’s management will remain headquartered in Calgary, and it will continue to operate as a local, independent company.
Employing the Berkshire Strategy
Also in keeping with another of Buffett’s strategies, Abel’s goal is to buy assets that will be owned forever.
It’s a sizeable acquisition as AltaLink had assets of C$5.9 billion as of December 31, 2013, and generated revenues of C$534.1 million in 2013.
Is this just another acquisition in BHE’s portfolio, or does it represent additional focus on the Canadian energy market?
On one hand, it’s a natural move for BHE’s combination of regulated utilities and infrastructure companies that span the U.S. and reach as far as the U.K. and the Philippines. But there’s reason to expect more. Greg Abel hails from Edmonton, he knows Alberta’s power demands are only going to grow, and he sees AltaLink as a beachhead acquisition.
Alberta’s Growing Power Needs
Industry leaders are already calling for more than 9,400 MW of new thermal power and more than 3,000 MW of new renewable power to fuel future development in Alberta.
Under Abel’s direction, BHE has been growing dramatically, including last year’s purchase of NV Energy that brought 1.3 million customers in Nevada under its wing. In total, BHE has amassed a $70 billion portfolio of energy companies that produced $12.6 billion in revenues in 2013.
A Future Berkshire Leader?
At the youthful age of 51, Greg Abel is often mentioned on the short-list of Buffett successors. He also sits on the board of directors of H.J. Heinz Company board of directors–Berkshire Hathaway’s biggest acquisition since BNSF Railway was acquired in 2010. It’s no surprise his name is on people’s lips, considering BHE’s high-powered growth strategy that has no end in sight. And the Canadian energy market may just be where that strategy leads.
© 2014 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.