Tag Archives: Warren Buffett

Berkshire Hathaway Takes Major Stake in Pilot Flying J Travel Centers

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Berkshire Hathaway has made a significant minority investment in Pilot Travel Centers.

The Haslam family will continue to own a majority of Pilot Flying J and Jimmy Haslam will remain as chief executive officer. Pilot Flying J President Ken Parent and the Company’s management team will also remain in place. The Company will continue to be headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Under the terms of the agreement, Berkshire will become the majority owner in five years.

Pilot Flying J is the largest operator of travel centers in North America, with more than 27,000 team members, 750 locations across the U.S. and Canada, and more than $20 billion in revenues.

The investment will expand Pilot Flying J’s opportunities for growth, as the Company remains committed to delivering outstanding service for the trucking industry, professional drivers, local communities and interstate travelers across North America.

Berkshire will initially acquire a 38.6 percent equity stake in Pilot Flying J. The Haslam family will continue to hold a majority interest with 50.1 percent ownership in the Company and FJ Management, Inc., owned by the Maggelet family, will retain 11.3 percent ownership until 2023.

In 2023, Berkshire will become the majority shareholder by acquiring an additional 41.4 percent equity stake and the Haslam family will retain 20 percent ownership in the Company and remain involved with Pilot Flying J.

“Pilot Flying J is built on a longstanding tradition of excellence and an unrivaled commitment to serving North America’s drivers,” said Warren Buffett, chairman, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. “Jimmy Haslam and his team have created an industry leader and a key enabler of the nation’s economy. The Company has a smart growth strategy in place and we look forward to a partnership that supports the trucking industry for years to come.”

“Given the impeccable reputation of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and our shared vision and values, we decided this was an ideal opportunity,” said Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J. “As a family business that has evolved and prospered over the last six decades, we knew that any potential partner would need to share our commitment and have a proven track record as a long-term investor. We have that in Berkshire Hathaway – they believe in our strategy, support our team and are excited to see Pilot Flying J grow. We are honored and humbled to partner with them.”

In an interview on CNBC, Jimmy Haslam cited Warren Buffett’s focus on being “long term investors,” and its “hands-off approach,” as the reason they were attracted to doing the deal with Berkshire.

© 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.

Shareholders Put the Kibosh on Berkshire Hathaway’s Additional Home Capital Investment

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Berkshire Hathaway’s plan to make an additional investment in Canadian lender Home Capital Group in exchange for shares priced well-below the market price has been soundly rejected by Home Capital’s shareholders.

The investment would have increased Berkshire’s stake from 20% to 38.4% in exchange for shares priced at C$10.30 per share.

Home Capital’s Chairwoman Brenda Eprile announced the results of a special meeting of shareholders had 88.79% of the votes cast rejected the proposal with only 11.21% voting for it.

In June, Berkshire through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Columbia Insurance Company, made an initial investment of C$153,225,739 to acquire 16,044,580 common shares on a private placement basis, representing an approximate 19.99% equity stake in Home Capital on a post-issuance basis (25% on a pre-issuance basis).

The shareholders rejection does not effect a C$2 billion credit facility that Berkshire supplied to shore up the lender after a run on deposits in may left it on the verge of collapse.

© 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.

Stock Swap Gives Berkshire Dividend Increase from Bank of America

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An additional $8 million a year in income may not mean much in the scheme of things for Berkshire Hathaway, but it proves once again that Warren Buffett know how to make money, even as he struggles to find ways to spend Berkshire’s over $100 billion in surplus.

With an almost $12 billion paper profit from its conversion of its preferred Bank of America stock to common stock, Berkshire Hathaway is reaping the rewards from bailing out the bank in 2011 during the Great Recession.

The move was one of Buffett’s most astute moves of the past decade.

It’s always nice to triple your investment, especially when the preferred shares had also been earning Berkshire $300 million a year in dividends.

But wait, there’s more, as they say on TV infomercials

In swapping the Bank of America preferred stock for a $11.5 billion common stock profit, Berkshire had to give up the $300 million in annual dividends the preferred stock paid. However, Bank of America just raised its quarterly dividend so the amount that Berkshire now gets annually in dividends will be $308 million.

The 66% increase in the common stock dividend came after the Federal Reserve allowed Bank of America and 33 other large banks to increase their dividends and buy back more stock after passing the most recent stress test in June that was required under the Dodd-Frank Act.

Also benefitting Berkshire, which now owns 6% of Bank of America, is the bank’s decision to increase to $12 billion to its share repurchase authorization.

© 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: It’s All in the Cards Monday for Berkshire’s Oncor Bid

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Monday’s hearing before Judge Christopher Sontchi in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, could decide the fate of Berkshire Hathaway’s $9 billion bid for Oncor Electric Delivery. It’s the latest round of a high stakes poker game that has seen all the players trying to strengthen their hands.

For Berkshire, the key to whether it wins the right to acquire the utility may not just be whether Warren Buffett can prevail over Paul Singer’s Elliot Management, but also the judge’s response to a third bid offering $9.45 billion, which is said to be coming from Sempra Energy of San Diego.

Paul Singer and Elliot Management’s strong hand comes from its status as the largest owner of every class of impaired debt. The hedge fund recently purchased $60 million of leveraged buyout notes to cement that status. And, while Singer has talked of putting together a bid to top Buffett’s offer, he could just as well side with Sempra’s offer.

Another Player Comes to the Table

Sempra Energy could have a strong hand of its own, as it is a credible bidder. Sempra was created in 1998 by a merger of parent companies of two long-established, and highly respected, investor-owned utilities — Los Angeles-based Pacific Enterprises, the parent company of Southern California Gas Co., and Enova Corporation, the parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric by a merger of parent companies of two long-established, and highly respected, investor-owned utilities — Los Angeles-based Pacific Enterprises, the parent company of Southern California Gas Co., and Enova Corporation, the parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric. Today it has 16,000 employees and serves 32 million customers worldwide.

Is the Key the Support of the Stakeholders?

Berkshire’s aces come from an approach that has focused on lining up support from the stakeholders that receive power from Oncor. Five key Texas stakeholder groups have all endorsed Berkshire’s bid.

On Friday, Berkshire Hathaway Energy announced that the Staff of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, Office of Public Utility Counsel, Steering Committee of Cities Served by Oncor, the Texas Industrial Energy Consumers and the IBEW Local 69 have entered into a settlement agreement with Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

The agreement resolved all issues in Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s acquisition of Oncor.

By entering into the settlement, the parties agreed that the acquisition is in the public interest, meets the statutory standards and will bring substantial benefits to Oncor and its customers. The parties to the agreement ask the Public Utility Commission of Texas to approve the acquisition consistent with the enhanced commitments in the agreement.

Will Berkshire Raise its Offer?

Both Greg Abel, Berkshire Hathaway Energy chairman and CEO, and Warren Buffett, have stated the company will stand firm on its $9 billion offer to acquire 80% of Oncor and will not be increasing its offer. Berkshire will collect a $270 termination fee if its offer is rejected.

Berkshire is hoping that in the end Judge Sontchi is persuaded by the support of 12 key stakeholder groups across Texas for Berkshire’s bid.

“The strong coalition of stakeholders consistently express the appropriate concerns and necessary protections for Oncor and its customers,” said Abel. “We stand ready to deliver on and exceed the regulatory commitments

In any case, Monday is looking like the decisive day in the fate of Oncor. Like a poker game of Texas Hold ‘Em, all the cards will be on the table.

© 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: Familiar Territory, Berkshire Wins if it Loses

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Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway look to be on the verge of winning Oncor Electric Delivery Co., a Texas-sized prize it has been chasing for the last three years, as the utility struggled under bankruptcy proceedings.

Now, all that stands in its way is a last minute bid by Paul Singer and his hedge fund Elliot Management. The hedge fund is the largest creditor in Oncor’s parent company, Energy Future Holdings Corporation.

Singer scored a recent success when Elliot Management won a delay in finalizing Berkshire’s takeover while it puts together its own offer, reportedly a $9.3 billion bid that would top Berkshire’s $9 billion deal.

The delay moves the bankruptcy court date from August 10 to August 21.

In addition to winning approval from the bankruptcy judge, any deal put together by Berkshire Hathaway or Elliott Management has to pass muster with the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), the agency that regulates the state’s electric and telecommunication utilities, and must rule that any approved acquisition is in the public interest.

The PUC has already rejected two prior takeover bids for Oncor, including last year’s bid from Hunt Consolidated Inc., and April’s bid from NextEra Energy Inc. The failed deals opened the door for Berkshire’s bid.

Berkshire, which entered the energy business in 1999, has built one of the largest utility holding companies, with $85 billion in assets and $17.4 billion in annual operation revenue, as of 2016.

Unlike many failed attempts at merging utilities, Berkshire has repeatedly acquired plum assets, including MidAmerican Energy, PacifiCorp, and NV Energy, and by allowing them to retain their earnings, made them stronger than they were before acquisition.

This is not something that escapes the PUC as it considers who should supply power to 10 million Texas residents, and a host of major manufacturers that need electricity at the lowest possible rates.

As Tony Bennett, president of the Association of Texas Manufacturers, pointed out in a recent editorial, Texas companies in the Oncor service area don’t have a choice of electricity suppliers, so whoever wins the bid has to be focussed on reliable service and low rates, not just the highest return for investors. This is where Berkshire Hathaway Energy excels.

Still, like so many deals that Buffett strikes, he wins even if he loses.

What’s a Hundred or Two Million Between Friends?

Termination fees are familiar territory for Buffett, who walked away with $175 million in 2008 when he refused to get in a bidding war for Constellation Energy. French energy company EDF doubled his offer, but a pile of cash that ran into the hundred millions suited him just fine for his three month pursuit of the Baltimore-based energy wholesaler.

This time, if the Oncor deal falls through, Berkshire will receive a $270 million termination fee.

Not a bad way to lose at all.

But, I wouldn’t bet on Berkshire losing this one.

© 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.

Nebraska Furniture Mart Celebrates 80th Birthday

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These days when a company lasts a decade everyone pops champagne, but for Berkshire Hathaway’s Nebraska Furniture Mart this August marks the 80th anniversary of the company’s founding in 1937.

Founded in Omaha by Rose Blumkin (affectionately known as Mrs. B.) the company started in the basement of her husband’s pawn shop with $500 borrowed from relatives.

Mrs. B., despite being only 4 feet 10 inches tall, was legendary for her toughness and work ethic.

Her escape from Russian persecution at the dawn of WWI, when as a passport-less, 23-year-old, store clerk from Minsk she crossed the Chinese-Siberian border by promising the guard she would bring back a bottle of fruit brandy, and her six-week voyage on a peanut boat could in itself be a movie.

Unable to speak English, and as an immigrant unable to get a bank loan, she prided herself as over the years she toppled Omaha’s “Big boys.”

As NFM grew to dominate the Omaha furniture market, Warren Buffett took notice and in 1983 Berkshire Hathaway bought the store for $60 million without even doing any formal due diligence. It didn’t stop Mrs. B. from working seven days a week, and she continued to oversee the store until age 103.

Along with NFM, Berkshire owns three other furniture retailers, including Jordan’s Furniture, R. C. Willey Home Furnishings, and the Star Furniture Company.

Today, NFM is the largest home furnishing store in North America selling furniture, flooring, appliances and electronics, doing volumes with only four mega-stores that put furniture retailers to shame. Make that every other furniture retailer to shame.

The chain has four stores in Omaha, Kansas City, Des Moines, and Dallas, and a valuation of well over $1 billion.

Day-to-day operations are overseen by Tony Boldt as the president and chief operating officer, with Ron Blumkin and his brother Irv Blumkin as chairman and CEO respectively.

While all the stores are large, none is larger than the store in the Dallas area, which opened its doors in March 2015.

The newest Nebraska Furniture Mart in The Colony in Dallas, Texas, was an immediate success and adds roughly $600 million a year to the furniture chain’s revenues, which already had the highest per-store volume of any furniture retailer in the United States.

Boasting a 1.9 million-square-foot facility, and featuring a 560,000-square-foot showroom, the new Dallas NFM dwarfs even the chains other megastores.

The Dallas store is the anchor to Berkshire’s $1.5 billion Grandscape development, the first of its kind for Berkshire. The development is a 400+ acres, 3.9 million square-feet mix of retail, entertainment, dining and attractions that won’t be fully built-out for another decade.

The elaborate Grandscape complex will feature a $45 million boardwalk-themed restaurant district, a hotel and spa, a recently announced 16-screen luxury movie theater, and 1.5 million square feet of residential and office space that is billed as the lifestyle center.

It’s all a long way from Mrs. B.’s basement, and the fact that Grandscape will be another decade before its completed just means that it will be done in time for NFM’s 90th anniversary.

© 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.

Buffett Reveals Terms of Failed Unilever Bid

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Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital Partners’ recent unsolicited offer for Unilever may have flopped, but it hasn’t soured Warren Buffett on working with 3G on more acquisitions.

The two entities have worked together on the takeover of Kraft to form Kraft Heinz, and Berkshire provided financing for 3G’s merger of Burger King and Tim Hortons that became Restaurant Brands International. The merger made Berkshire a minority owner of the combined company.

At the annual shareholder’s meeting, Buffett detailed that both Berkshire and 3G were prepared to each put $15 billion into the Unilever transaction.

Some in the press have questioned whether 3G’s extreme cost-cutting made the deal unpalatable for Unilever.

While a shareholder questioned whether 3G’s emphasis on layoffs as part of its cost-cutting strategy was in line with Berkshire’s corporate culture, both Buffett and Charlie Munger noted that improvements in productivity have often lead to layoffs.

Munger noted that he doesn’t long for the days of elevator operators, and “We don’t want to go back to the days of subsistence farming.”

While Munger didn’t see a particular “moral fault” in 3G’s strategy, Buffett was clearly sensitive to the impact on displaced workers.

“If you look at any industry, they are trying to get more productive,” Buffett said. Still he noted that society’s improved living standard as a whole can be of little comfort to an individual that has lost their job, and he wishes there could be another way.

Buffett did term 3G’s severance packages at Kraft Heinz “more than fair.”

© 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.

Buffett Says Wells Fargo “Incentivized the Wrong Type of Behavior”

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Warren Buffett continued to take aim at Wells Fargo during his answers to shareholders’ questions at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting.

He noted that Wells Fargo “incentivized the wrong type of behavior,” and felt that its CEO John Stumpf, was slow in responding to the scandal.

Berkshire Hathaway is Wells Fargo’s largest shareholder at just under ten percent of the company.

The stock has been one of Berkshire’s long term core holdings, and so far it has shown no sign of selling its position.

Still, Buffett emphasized that he was not pleased with the actions Stumpf took.

“If there’s a major problem, the CEO will get wind of it. At that moment, that’s the key to everything. The CEO has to act,” Buffett said. “The main problem was they didn’t act when they learned about it.”

Some 5,300 employees were eventually fired for creating over 2 million phony accounts tied to existing customers in order to meet sales goals, and Stumpf ended up resigning.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” Buffett said, noting the old adage. “A pound of cure is worth a ton of cure delayed,” he added.

© 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.

Buffett Unperturbed by Berkshire’s Q1 Earnings

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While much of the media focused on Berkshire Hathaway’s lower first quarter earnings, which fell 27 percent, Warren Buffett reminded shareholders at the conglomerate’s annual meeting that Berkshire has over $90 billion in unrealized capital gains.

Berkshire reported that its net income was $4.06 billion, which translates to $2,469 per Class A share. This was down from $5.59 billion, or $3,401, for the first quarter of 2016.

As of March 31, 2017, Berkshire’s book value had increased by 3.5% since yearend 2016 to $178,073 per Class A equivalent share.

Weather related losses in its insurance businesses were one of the reasons for the earnings shortfall.

Buffett noted that taking some of those capital gains at any time would change the company’s quarterly earnings, and Buffett has always emphasized Berkshire’s intrinsic value, which is harder to quantify.

Buffett did note that Berkshire’s float, which comes from its numerous insurance operations, is up $14 billion.

There’s no doubt that the company is swimming in cash, which is now at a company record $90 billion, and Buffett appeared itchy to put some of that cash to work while keeping Berkshire safe in case of unforeseen hard times.

He noted that the $20 billion he often mentions as held as reserves is in his mind a bare minimum, and that he’s more likely to maintain a reserve closer to $24 billion.

© 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.

Warren Buffett Wishes For Five More Lubrizols

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

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.