Category Archives: Special Report

Special Report: Berkshire Hathaway May Be Sitting on the Saudi Arabia of Lithium

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

What Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are to the fossil fuel era, lithium reserves are to the dawning battery-powered electric vehicle era.

A dying California lake could be the Saudi Arabia of lithium if new extraction methods prove viable, and Berkshire Hathaway could be in position to profit handsomely from the coming boom in the metal.

With the rise of the electric vehicle, global lithium demand is projected to grow tenfold by 2030, as lithium-ion powered EVs move from the fringe to the dominant mode of transportation, eclipsing fossil fuel powered vehicles.

The transition is already underway. California, which has the most car registration in the U.S. with over 15 million, recently announced that it will phase out the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

With the demand for lithium-ion batteries growing rapidly, the need for raw lithium is increasingly under pressure. As of 2020, 95% of global lithium extraction comes from Australia, Chile, Argentina and China.

However, California may be on the verge of taking its seat at the table.

Key to meeting worldwide lithium demand may be the Salton Sea, a roughly 400 square mile inland sea that was accidentally created in 1905 when high spring flooding on the Colorado River crashed the canal gates leading into the developing Imperial Valley. For the next 18 months the entire volume of the Colorado River rushed downward into the Salton Trough. By the time engineers were finally able to stop the breaching water in 1907, the Salton Sea had been born. Over a hundred years later, the Salton Sea now has a higher salinity than the Pacific Ocean.

The lake has one asset that may turn it from environmental disaster to one of the key assets in the global climate change battle, and that’s an abundance of lithium. Its briny water may contain enough lithium to meet one third of the world’s current lithium demand if it can be economically extracted.

The Salton Sea’s Riches Have Not Gone Unnoticed

A group of investors is hoping to turn the area into a “Lithium Valley” that may join Silicon Valley for economic impact. The goal is to make the Salton Sea area of California a world-wide hub in lithium extraction and battery production. It is a goal already supported by state officials, and Gov. Newsome recently signed a bill to create a “Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California.”

On October 6, 2020, New Energy Nexus an international non-profit that supports clean energy entrepreneurs, released a report “Building Lithium Valley.” The report notes that the U.S. is only “1% of global lithium supply. But according to the USGS, the U.S. has 8.5% of the world’s lithium resources.”

The report goes on to state that a “Lithium Valley anchored ‘Clean Energy Hub’ focused on attracting battery component, battery cell and electric vehicle manufacturers to Imperial County could supercharge the state’s financial recovery while also promoting the sustainable wellbeing of a county with the highest unemployment rate in the state.”

Among the key companies already involved is Oakland, California-based Lilac Solutions, which is commercializing a new ion exchange technology for lithium extraction from brine resources that it claims is significantly faster, cheaper, and more scalable than existing technology.

The technology was developed by CEO Dave Snydacker, a battery expert and materials engineer focused on bringing lithium extraction into the 21st century.

Ion exchange technology has been in operation for 80+ years in various industries including mineral recovery, and Lilac tailored this technology to be highly selective for lithium achieving recovery rates of about 90%. Lilac states that it has successfully demonstrated the technology at large scale, and with dozens of brine resources from around the world.

Money is already pouring into Lilac to see if they are right. In February 2020, Lilac raised $20 Million in Series A funding that included money from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a Bill Gates-founded fund with more than $1 billion in committed capital to support bold entrepreneurs building companies that can significantly reduce emissions from agriculture, buildings, electricity, manufacturing, and transportation.

Berkshire Hathaway’s Role in Lithium Extraction

Berkshire Hathaway Energy owns ten geothermal energy plants in the Salton Sea/Imperial Valley area of California, putting it at the heart of a potential lithium boom. The plants sell power to Southern California Edison Company, City of Riverside, Salt River Project, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Imperial Irrigation District (IID) and Arizona Public Service.

Currently, the wastewater from geothermal energy plants is reinjected into the geothermal reservoirs from which it came. However, this wastewater is rich in lithium and other minerals, including manganese and zinc.

The goal of extracting commercial quantities of lithium from the Salton Sea is already moving forward. The California Energy Commission awarded $6 million to Berkshire Hathaway Energy for a demonstration project to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate.

BHE Renewables, a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, is working on modifying its existing geothermal power plants operating in the Salton Sea for lithium extraction. These power plants are operated by another wholly owned subsidiary, CalEnergy, and will serve as the site for BHER’s pre-commercial geothermal brine pre-treatment for the lithium recovery.

BHER is working with AquaMin to scale up its lithium recovery technology to process 100 gallons per minute (gpm) of geothermal brine from the Region facilities to recover lithium chloride and convert it into lithium carbonate, and BHE Renewables currently produces 350MW of its 4,000 MW of renewable power with geothermal generation in Imperial Valley.

There is an estimated 5.5 year timeline until full commercialization, measured from end of Q2 2020. Initial operating plant estimated to be operational after 30 months and reach capacity of 1,000mt in the following year. The initial plant will serve as pilot and example for cash generation to validate full scale plant ideas.

According to the Nexus report, BHER’s resources alone could produce as much as 300,000 metric tons per annum of high-quality, battery-grade lithium carbonate equivalent.

If good luck comes down to being in the right place at the right time, Berkshire Hathaway certainly seems to be in for some very good luck.

© 2020 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 a 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.

Special Report: Shares Of Berkshire Hathaway-Backed BYD Soar On News Of Luxury Car Orders

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Shares of Berkshire Hathaway-backed Chinese battery and vehicle manufacturer BYD Co., Ltd. jumped 14.58% on Wednesday, as the company racked up 40,000 orders in the first two months in China for its new plug-in electric Han luxury car.

BYD’s stock (BYDDF), which had been as low as $4.35 on March 23, closed at $16.22 on Wednesday.

The Han EV will be sold in China at first. Its extended-range version will sell at 229,800 RMB (approximately $32,800), the extended-range variant of the premium model will be priced at 255,800 RMB (about $36,500), and the 4WD high-performance version will sell at 279,500 (about $40,000) RMB. Besides, the PHEV version, Han DM, will sell at 219,800 yuan (about $31,400).

The Han is the first mass-produced model that uses BYD’s ultra-safe Blade Battery, and its performance stats are impressive.

Han EV’s long-range pure electric version has a single-charge range of 605 kilometers (376 miles) based on the NEDC test cycle.

The four-wheel-drive high-performance version possesses an acceleration of 0 to 100km/h (approximately 62 mph) in just 3.9 seconds, making it China’s fastest EV in production, and the DM (Dual Mode) plug-in hybrid model offers 0 to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds, making it the country’s fastest hybrid sedan.

The Han series comes with the world-first MOSFET motor control module, which fuels the car’s record-breaking 3.9 second 0-100km/h acceleration, and the Han’s braking distance requires only 32.8 meters from 100km/h to a standstill.

The Han EV’s extended-range version’s 605-kilometer cruising range also gives it the world’s highest energy recovery rating. The Han DM hybrid model comes with 81 kilometers of pure-electric cruising range and over 800 kilometers of integrated range, along with five different power modes.

The company claims that its ultra-safe Blade Battery makes it twice as safe compared to EVs using traditional ternary lithium battery packs. The Han’s DM is powered by a “seven-dimensional quad-layer” safety matrix that remain stable at high temperatures.

Mr. Wang Chuanfu, President of BYD Co., Ltd., said, “The Han has taken ten years from the concept stage to formal mass production,” which he likened to “ten years of sharpening a brilliant sword”. He added, “Through our leading technologies, we have created three benchmarks for flagship EVs in terms of safety, performance, and luxury.”

The Han comes with the latest version of BYD’s DiPilot intelligent driving assistance system, including a wide array of safety features like an adaptive stop-and-go cruise-control system (ACC-S&G), a forward-collision warning system (FCW), a pedestrian identification and protection system, a lane departure warning system (LDWS), traffic sign identification, and much more. The Han can be upgraded with even higher-level functions including BYD’s ICC Intelligent Navigation System, the ICA Integrated Adaptive Cruise System, and the TJA Traffic Congestion Assistance System. In addition, the extended-range premium and 4WD high-performance models provide blind spot monitoring, lane-change assistance, rear collision early warning and other leading functions, which can be upgraded to a comprehensive automatic parking function.

DiPilot also comes with the DiTrainer mode, which selectively turns on assisted driving based on factors such as driving behavior, road conditions, weather, and even driving age. The DiLink 3.0 Smart Network system comes with smart voice upgrades and a DiUI upgrade, with a 15.6-inch Ultra HD 8-core adaptive rotary suspension PAD, bringing the even smarter luxury sedan.

As for styling, BYD’s new Dragon Face design language uses both Eastern and Western design aesthetics. From its striking front grille, its Dragon Claw tail lights and other features, the car’s stylized design creates a striking, confident vehicle that defines a new era for Chinese-made luxury vehicles. The interior is equipped with solid wooden panels, high-quality Napa leather seats, aluminum trims and other high-end materials rarely used in other high-end luxury vehicles.

A Profitable EV Company

BYD recently reported a net profit of 1.66 billion yuan (roughly 242 million U.S. dollars) for the first half of 2020. The net profit rose 14.29 percent over the same period in 2019.

Through June 30, BYD had revenue of 60.5 billion yuan, down 2.7 percent year on year, according to BYD’s financial report filed with the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

Despite the global pandemic, BYD projects 2.8 billion yuan to 3 billion yuan of net profit in the first three quarters of this year, which would be an increase of 77.86 percent to 90.56 percent from the same period of 2019.

BYD and Berkshire Hathaway

In 2008, Berkshire Hathaway bet on BYD’s potential, purchasing 225 million shares. It’s an investment that has paid off handsomely. Berkshire’s original investment of $230 million has grown in value sixteen-fold.

© 2020 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway and BYD, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell a 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.

Special Report: BNSF and Wabtec Testing Lithium-Ion Locomotive

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Wabtec and BNSF Railway Company are testing a lithium-ion battery-powered locomotive, which will be paired with diesel locomotives in a “consist” (railroad jargon for a sequence of connected locomotives) to eventually power a freight train along a stretch of rail in California’s Central Valley between Stockton and Barstow.

Wabtec has begun testing a prototype 4,400 lithium-ion battery-powered locomotive at its Erie, Pennsylvania, plant.

If successful, the fuel savings could have a big impact on BNSF and other railroads. And the environmental benefits could also help BNSF advance one of its major capacity-building projects. Adding even one battery-powered locomotive to the train could reduce the consist’s total fuel consumption by up to 15 percent.

BNSF and Wabtec (formerly GE Transportation) began the pilot program in 2018.

Currently, Wabtec builds new diesel locomotives up to 5,400 horsepower. In addition to locomotives, Wabtec also produces freight cars, passenger transit vehicles and power generation equipment, for both original equipment and aftermarket applications.

BNSF previously looked at liquefied natural gas as a possible alternative to diesel fuel, but ended the project, and has since moved on to battery power.

The leap to battery power is not as big of one as it may at first seem. Diesel-electric locomotives like the machines Wabtec builds are already essentially power plants on wheels. They use a powerful diesel engine to generate the electricity that drives the electric motors that spin the wheels.

Wabtec believes that a battery-powered locomotive is the perfect complement to its diesel-electric brethren. The battery will hold 2,400 kilowatt-hours of energy, meaning it’s able to maintain full horsepower for roughly 30 minutes on a given charge. Then the operator can decide how to use that power.

For example, the operator could slash emissions from the diesel-powered locomotives by drawing heavily on the battery to start up the train. This would be especially desirable if the train were pulling out of a city rail yard, close to populated areas.

Using the battery power also cuts down on noise. The train operator may also choose to “graze” on battery power — or even recharge the battery — when the train is cruising through open landscape, saving hundreds of gallons of diesel.

Each battery locomotive also has a brain, in the form of an onboard supervisory control system. The rail operator can input data about the train’s journey into the system — such as how much weight it’s hauling, the types of locomotives in the consist, and its route — to allow the computer to make decisions about the best way to use the battery before the train even pulls away.

Imagine a battery-enhanced train making a 500-mile trip across sparsely populated terrain — meaning fuel economy is the name of the game. Software will calculate the optimum ratio of battery power to diesel usage for such a journey and decide on the most favorable balance for the hybrid locomotive consist. The software can then pinpoint the exact moments to draw on the battery, thus sparing diesel.

The new locomotive will use a battery cell similar to what you might find under the hood of an electric car. It is a lithium-ion energy storage unit with cells that contain a combination of nickel, manganese and cobalt only far larger.

A standard electric-car battery usually holds a few hundred storage cells — each around the size of a mini tablet computer. But the prototype of the new locomotive will have a battery with approximately 20,000 cells, and future versions may have as many as 50,000 cells. The cells also must be able to weather the heavy-going environment of a locomotive, with all its jolts and shocks.

To build the demonstration model, workers stripped out the engine and cooling systems from a diesel locomotive to make way for the battery under the hood. But from the outside, the battery-powered locomotive doesn’t look much different from its diesel counterparts.

The impact on BNSF could be huge, not only in fuel cost-savings, but if it could use battery-powered locomotives in urban areas, such as the Port of Long Beach, it might be able to overcome the opposition to its long-stalled Southern California International Gateway plan, which has been held up due to environmental concerns tied to diesel emissions.

“We’re developing and testing the ‘next-generation’ locomotive now to build our advantage over long-haul trucks, remain competitive and reduce our operating costs,” BNSF’s Vice-President, Environmental, John Lovenburg, says.

© 2020 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 a 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.

Special Report: Berkshire Hathaway to Make $1.3 Billion on Sale of Newspapers to Lee Enterprises

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Berkshire Hathaway’s sale of its BH Media newspaper empire to Lee Enterprises will get Warren Buffett and Berkshire out of the newspaper business, and the good news it won’t be at a loss. Berkshire Hathaway will make a bundle on the deal.

Berkshire is selling BH Media Group’s publications and The Buffalo News for $140 million in cash, and providing approximately $576 million in long-term financing to Lee at a 9% annual rate.

What’s more, Lee Enterprises will lease also the existing newspapers’ facilities from Berkshire, including assuming the maintenance and upkeep costs, giving Berkshire an additional long term revenue stream.

Anyone that worries about Berkshire’s ability to collect on its loan can take comfort that the deal actually strengthens Lee’s balance sheet.

The proceeds Lee receives from the Berkshire financing will be used to pay for the acquisition, refinance Lee’s approximately $400 million of existing debt, and provide enough cash on Lee’s balance sheet to allow for the termination of Lee’s existing revolving credit facility. The financing requires no fees, will result in approximately $5 million of interest rate savings on Lee’s refinanced debt annually.

The transaction is expected to drive an 87% increase in revenue for Lee Enterprises, a 40% increase in adjusted EBITDA and immediately reduce leverage to 3.4x before synergies. Based on Lee’s work managing BHMG publications over the last 18 months, Lee expects $20-25 million of anticipated annual revenue and cost synergies. As a result, Lee will benefit from a stronger financial profile and be positioned to de-lever more rapidly.

Subsequent to the deal closing, Berkshire Hathaway will be Lee’s sole lender, putting Berkshire in first position in case of default.

The deal will reduce Lee’s leverage from 3.5x to 3.4x, before any cost and revenue synergies. Lee has identified approximately $20-25 million of highly achievable annual synergies, including revenue synergies from the management of digital advertising and subscriber programs, and cost synergies, primarily from the reduction of administrative expenses. Lee expects to achieve the full synergy run-rate within 24 months of closing, which is expected in mid-March 2020, subject to customary regulatory approvals.

Lee Enterprises is a longtime favorite of Warren Buffett, and it has moved in and out of his portfolio at various points. Lee has managed BHMG’s publications since July 2018 under a management agreement, and Buffett was clearly positioning Berkshire to get out of the newspaper business, no matter how much affection he had for ink stained paper.

A Windfall for Berkshire

In the end, Berkshire gets out of a declining business that had negligible impact on its balance sheet, can look forward to $1.296 billion in interest payments on its loan to Lee, and another $80 million in lease payments for the 10 years of its lease agreement. There could be significantly more if those leases renew.

How does Buffett feel about it? Buffett said, “My partner Charlie Munger and I have known and admired the Lee organization for over 40 years. They have delivered exceptional performance managing BH Media’s newspapers and continue to outpace the industry in digital market share and revenue. We had zero interest in selling the group to anyone else for one simple reason: We believe that Lee is best positioned to manage through the industry’s challenges. No organization is more committed to serving the vital role of high-quality local news, however delivered, as Lee. I am confident that our newspapers will be in the right hands going forward and I also am pleased to be deepening our long-term relationship with Lee through the financing agreement.”

Warren Buffett has built Berkshire Hathaway into a half-trillion-dollar conglomerate through acquisitions, but he’s not afraid to sell on occasion, especially when the deal means long term profits with no costs.

© 2020 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.

Special Report: BNSF On Track For 2020 Test of Lithium-Ion Locomotive

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Wabtec and BNSF Railway Company are on track for a late-2020 test of a lithium-ion battery-powered locomotive paired with diesel locomotives in a “consist” (railroad jargon for a sequence of connected locomotives) to power a freight train along a stretch of rail in California’s Central Valley between Stockton and Barstow.

If successful, the fuel savings could have a big impact on BNSF and other railroads. And the environmental benefits could also help BNSF advance one of its major capacity-building projects.

BNSF has been developing the pilot program with help from Wabtec (formerly GE Transportation), which is developing the locomotive.

Currently, Wabtec builds new locomotives up to 5,400 horsepower. In addition to locomotives, Wabtec also produces freight cars, passenger transit vehicles and power generation equipment, for both original equipment and aftermarket applications.

For BNSF, the fuel saving could be huge, as adding even one battery-powered locomotive to the train could reduce the consist’s total fuel consumption by up to 15 percent.

BNSF previously looked at liquefied natural gas as a possible alternative to diesel fuel, but ended the project, and has since moved on to battery power.

The leap to battery power is not as big of one as it may at first seem. Diesel-electric locomotives like the machines Wabtec builds are already essentially power plants on wheels. They use a powerful diesel engine to generate the electricity that drives the electric motors that spin the wheels.

Wabtec believes that a battery-powered locomotive is the perfect complement to its diesel-electric brethren. The battery will hold 2,400 kilowatt-hours of energy, meaning it’s able to maintain full horsepower for roughly 30 minutes on a given charge. Then the operator can decide how to use that power.

For example, the operator could slash emissions from the diesel-powered locomotives by drawing heavily on the battery to start up the train. This would be especially desirable if the train were pulling out of a city rail yard, close to populated areas.

Using the battery power also cuts down on noise. The train operator may also choose to “graze” on battery power — or even recharge the battery — when the train is cruising through open landscape, saving hundreds of gallons of diesel.

Each battery locomotive also has a brain, in the form of an onboard supervisory control system. The rail operator can input data about the train’s journey into the system — such as how much weight it’s hauling, the types of locomotives in the consist, and its route — to allow the computer to make decisions about the best way to use the battery before the train even pulls away.

Imagine a battery-enhanced train making a 500-mile trip across sparsely populated terrain — meaning fuel economy is the name of the game. Software will calculate the optimum ratio of battery power to diesel usage for such a journey and decide on the most favorable balance for the hybrid locomotive consist. The software can then pinpoint the exact moments to draw on the battery, thus sparing diesel.

The new locomotive will use a battery cell similar to what you might find under the hood of an electric car. It is a lithium-ion energy storage unit with cells that contain a combination of nickel, manganese and cobalt only far larger.

A standard electric-car battery usually holds a few hundred storage cells — each around the size of a mini tablet computer. But the prototype of the new locomotive will have a battery with approximately 20,000 cells, and future versions may have as many as 50,000 cells. The cells also must be able to weather the heavy-going environment of a locomotive, with all its jolts and shocks.

To build the demonstration model, workers will strip out the engine and cooling systems from a diesel locomotive to make way for the battery under the hood. But from the outside, the battery-powered locomotive won’t look much different from its diesel counterparts.

The impact on BNSF could be huge, not only in fuel cost-savings, but if it could use battery-powered locomotives in urban areas, such as the Port of Long Beach, it might be able to overcome the opposition to its long-stalled Southern California International Gateway plan, which has been held up due to environmental concerns tied to diesel emissions.

© 2019 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

Special Report: Kevin Clayton Transforms Clayton Homes

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

“Would you believe where we are after just three years,” Kevin Clayton, president and CEO of Clayton Homes, says about the company’s move into the site builder business.

It’s a business that Clayton is growing rapidly, and he just acquired Highland Homes in early May, a Florida home builder that is the ninth home builder acquired by Clayton in just three years.

It’s all part of an increasing emphasis on site built homes for the low and midprice market, notes Kevin Clayton.

“It’s a market that has an average price point of $318,000, Clayton says, “which is well under the national average of over $400,000.”

Clayton Homes, which runs its site builders under its Clayton Properties Group, a division of Clayton Home Building Group that is based in Maryville, Tennessee, is already ranked 18th on Builder Magazine’s Builder 100 list and rising fast.

Clayton Homes has been named “Builder of the year” for 2019. It’s an award that really pleases Kevin Clayton.

“To think we weren’t even in that business three years ago,” Clayton says proudly.

Clayton is looking to acquire more site builders, but notes they must meet four criteria.

“First, the owner must be willing to stay around and work,” Clayton says. “Second, they must have survived the last recession; third, they must focus on building low and midprice houses, and fourth, but not least, they must be customer focused and really care about the customer experience.”

Clayton Homes was founded in 1956, by Kevin Clayton’s father Jim Clayton, and Kevin Clayton has led the company since 1999, when he took over from his father.

Acquired by Berkshire Hathaway in 2003 for $1.7 billion, Clayton Homes has grown into a diverse builder offering traditional site built homes, modular homes, manufactured homes, tiny homes, college dormitories, military barracks and apartments.

Improvement in Manufactured Homes

Kevin Clayton is also positive about his manufactured homes business, which he emphasis use the same 30-year shingles as a traditional site built home.

“We don’t have metal roofs anymore,” Clayton says. “Our manufactured homes have a lifespan that’s the same as a site built home.”

Clayton is also building a new type of manufactured homes, for now dubbed New Class Homes, which meet Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac standards. By qualifying, borrowers have lower down payment requirements and lender fees. The homes qualify for a MH Advantage loan, and must be “designed to meet specific construction, architectural design and energy efficiency standards,” according to Fannie Mae.

The move dramatically reduces the amount of down payment borrowers have to come up with. MH Advantage loans require a 3 % down payment, down from 5% previously. In addition, Fannie Mae does not charge its 50-basis-point loan-level price adjustment for manufactured housing loans.

“New Class Homes represent only a couple of percent of our revenues right now,” Kevin Clayton says, but he sees lots of rooms for growth.

The overall manufactured home business is strong.

“The manufactured home business is up 6-7 percent this year,” Clayton says.

Clayton emphasized the environmental advantages manufactured homes, which produce far less waste than traditional site built homes.

“All our 42 facilities are ISO 14001 certified, which is all about environmental standards,” Clayton says.

ISO 14001 is the international standard that specifies requirements for an effective environmental management system.

Clayton has moved much of its supply chain in-house, building more of its own components.

“We build our own windows,” Clayton notes.

Why Consumers Buy Manufactured Homes

It’s a type of housing that opens home ownership to a broad range of consumers that are locked out of housing market as traditional home prices have skyrocketed.

“Fifty percent of people we help with a home would not qualify for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgages,” Clayton says.

A big part of that access to homes is the greatly lower price point. A manufactured home can be purchased for $69,000 and has an average cost of only $116,000 with land.

“In rural America there’s not a lot of apartment options,” Kevin Clayton notes. “Many of our customers have been living with family, and are looking for an affordable way to live on their own.”

Clayton especially notes the popularity of manufactured homes for five-acre ranches.

“Where there’s land, we shine!”

© 2019 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.

Kraft Heinz Updates Classic Brands for Millennials

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

With Kraft Heinz facing a millennials generation of consumers focusing increasingly on products billed as healthy and organic, the processed food manufacturer is not only looking to launch news products, but also to update its classic brands.

On the new products front, the company recently launched Springboard, a platform dedicated to nurturing, scaling, and accelerating growth of disruptive US brands within the food and beverage space.

According to the company, the Springboard platform is seeking opportunities to develop brands with authentic propositions and inspired founders within one of four pillars that are shaping the future of the food and beverage space: Natural & Organic, Specialty & Craft, Health & Performance and Experiential brands.

“We are committed to support and partner with teams that will impact the future of our industry,” said Sergio Eleuterio, General Manager, Springboard Brands. “We are actively searching for emergent, authentic brands that can expand into new categories, and are looking to build a network of founders to help shape the future of foods and beverages.”

As for Kraft Heinz classic brands, it is increasingly reformulating its products to meet millennials’ shopping priorities.

Kraft Heinz’s CEO Bernardo Hees cites CapriSun, which millennials grew up with, as a brand that they will come back to now that it has an organic line. It advertises that its CapriSun Organic uses organic juice from organic farms.

In 2016, the company’s Kraft Mac & Cheese, which generations of children have eaten the bright orange noodles, successfully removed the artificial food colors, including yellow 5 and yellow 6, and replaced them with paprika, annatto and turmeric. Consumers didn’t notice the difference in the product’s look and feel.

Even the iconic hot dog, that most processed of foods, got reworked, In 2017, the Oscar Mayer brand changed its hot dogs to contain no added nitrates or nitrites, no artificial preservatives in their meat, and no by-products in every single one of their hot dogs. Oscar Mayer trumpets that it was the first national brand to do this across every single one of its hot dogs.

Kraft Heinz’s first-quarter net income rose to $993 million, 81 cents a share, up from $893 million, 73 cents a share, from the same period in 2017.

© 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.

Louisiana Goes for BYD’s Pure Electric Buses

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

BYD, the largest battery-electric bus manufacturer in North America and the largest electric vehicle company in the world, today announced a new order that will see three American-made BYD K9S electric buses deployed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, under the authority of the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) later this year. The purchase of these new buses reflects BYD’s continued dominance of the North American battery-electric bus market as well as the continuing growth of the sector across the continent.

“In every corner of the continent, we are witnessing rapid growth in the electrification of bus fleets,” stated Macy Neshati, BYD Senior Vice President. “Whether you are looking at the hot and humid climates of the Deep South, the wet weather of the Northwest or the frigid climates of the North, BYD buses are workhorses that can handle any condition.”

With a range of approximately 150 miles on a single charge and a capacity of up to 32 passengers, depending on configuration, the K9S is ideally suited for the needs of Baton Rouge. BYD buses are projected to cost roughly $1.00 less per mile to operate than the typical diesel-powered bus. The new buses produce zero emissions and make oil changes a thing of the past. The proprietary BYD Iron-Phosphate battery is nontoxic, 100% recyclable, fire-safe and incredibly long-cycled. In fact, BYD is the first and only electric bus manufacturer to offer a full 12-year warranty on batteries.

We are excited to incorporate electric buses into our planned Bus Rapid Transit projects in Baton Rouge,” said Bill Deville, CATS CEO. “These buses will allow us to see how we can use electric buses to reduce the impact of our fleet on our environment and also control costs.”

CATS provides bus service to residents of and visitors to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They operate 29 bus lines and provides more than 2 million rides each year. To CATS leaders, the new buses constitute an important opportunity to innovate.

“Electric buses are a big step forward for CATS. They represent a chance to pilot new technology in Baton Rouge, and we are very excited about that,” said Jim Brandt, President of the CATS Board of Commissioners.

BYD and Berkshire Hathaway

In 2008, Berkshire Hathaway bet on BYD’s potential, purchasing 225 million shares. It’s an investment that has paid off handsomely. Berkshire’s original investment of $230 million has grown in value almost ten-fold, and is now worth roughly $1.96 billion.

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.

Special Report: Opportunities Abound for Berkshire in the Growing EV Market

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Everyone can see it coming, petrol, gas, diesel, whatever you want to call it, will play a diminishing role in fueling cars of the future. It’s already playing a diminishing role right now.

Let’s look at a few numbers.

In 2016, 750,000 EV cars were sold worldwide, with Norway the highest in market share at 29%, and China the largest in total units sold. And, 2016 marked the first time that EVs passed more than 2 million vehicles on the road worldwide.

While those numbers are still tiny when compared to the 2 billion vehicles in service around the world, they confirm that the EV is not only here to stay, but will play an ever larger role in personal and commercial transportation.

Credit Tesla with making the EV fashionable in the U.S., and drawing in other car makers that are now debuting their own models. In fact, Tesla has made the EV so fashionable among high-end buyers that in Europe Tesla’s Model S outsold both the traditional petrol-fueled BMW 7 series and Mercedes-Benz S class.

It’s easy to go down the list of carmakers that are showing off their EV vehicles at this year’s auto shows. Volkswagen, which was committed to diesel cars before its huge emissions scandal, is now touting its EV retro-styled concept bus, the I.D. Buzz. And Jaguar’s heading to market in late-2018 with its I-Pace SUV.

BMW, Hyundai, Nissan, Porsche, Toyota, and Volvo, to name a few, are all announcing new EV models or EV versions of existing models. Even Bentley has an all-electric four-door coupe in the works for 2019, and a goal to have an electric version of each of its models by 2025.

For drivers in China that purchased 600,000 EVs in 2017 at the lower-end of the market, it’s China’s BYD that led the way, with Chery, SAIC Wuling, Hawtai, and BAIC all moving more than 3,000 units in December 2017 alone.

The new energy company BYD, which Berkshire Hathaway has a roughly $1.9 billion stake in, sold almost 14,000 ev cars in February 2018, and is the global sales leader despite not being in the U.S. market except for its pure-electric buses.

Back in the U.S., Tesla’s Model 3 is aimed at bringing the company’s cars to a whole new set of consumers, and it’s not the only one making inroads at making an EV with true extended driving range affordable.

GM’s more mainstream price point Chevy Bolt, which boasts a 238-mile range, is now heading towards the company’s goal of moving 30,000 units a year.

All this EV progress bring up the question of what’s Berkshire Hathaway’s role in it?

It’s likely not as a manufacturer.

Berkshire’s roughly 8 percent stake in BYD, and its stake in GM, which was actually down 10 million shares (-16.7%) as of its most recent 13-F filing, doesn’t indicate Warren Buffett wants to be anything but a passive investor in making cars.

Berkshire will certainly play a role in new and used EV sales, as its Berkshire Hathaway Automotive Group of 78 independently operated dealerships with over 100 franchises in 10 states, gives the company a slice of that market.

However, fueling EVs is also right up Berkshire’s alley.

Not the Cars, the Fuel

Berkshire’s in a number of interesting spaces when it comes to fueling EVs. As the EV market-share grows, so do the number of consumers that will be charging their vehicles at home.

When it comes to home charging, its utilities, including PacifiCorp, MidAmerican Energy and NV Energy generate and supply power in twelve states. And overseas, Berkshire’s Northern Powergrid delivers electricity to 3.9 million homes and businesses in England.

Berkshire also is a big player in the electricity transmission business. Its BHE U.S. Transmission owns over a thousand miles of transmission lines in the southern U.S. and California. In Canada, Berkshire’s AltaLink is the largest regulated transmission company in Alberta, supplying electricity to more than 85% of the population.

Taking the EV on the Road

Even though much of the EV market will be charging its cars overnight at home, there is still a big need to be able to quickly charge your vehicle while traveling.

Out of necessity, Tesla has made a substantial investment in this space, to-date building 1,191 Supercharger Stations with 9,184 Superchargers.

These superchargers already benefit Berkshire in areas that get their power from Berkshire-owned utilities.

And a recent Berkshire acquisition has the potential to greatly boost their own capability in this space.

The New King of the Travel Center

In October 2017, Berkshire took a 38.6 percent equity stake in Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel centers in North America. That stake will grow in 2023 when Berkshire will become the majority shareholder by acquiring an additional 41.4 percent equity.

With 750 locations across the U.S. and Canada, and more than $20 billion in revenues, Pilot Flying J already plays a substantial role in fueling cars and commercial trucks. It’s also a natural fit for EV charging stations. And while EV ranges continue to grow, the need to charge your vehicle away from home is also growing.

That’s Not All

The charging station space is so new that there are likely to be multiple opportunities for Berkshire, as the lack of a need for storage tanks, which kept traditional petrol fueling stations centralized, means that charging stations can fit into public parking lots, mall and office building parking, and other spaces that were inconceivable for a gas station.

For example, in Oregon, PacifiCorp just received the greenlight to build seven charging stations as part of a $4.64 million transportation electrification plan.

PacifiCorp plans to install seven “pods” that would include multiple dual-standard direct current fast chargers, which can provide up to 80 miles of driving range in 20 minutes of charging, and at least one level 2 port, which offers up to 20 miles of range in an hour of charging.

Whether utilities will ultimately be allowed to own large networks of charging stations remains to be seen, as some environmental groups and potential competitors in the space are already objecting to that concept.

However, the future looks bright for Berkshire. It’s got the electric power, it’s got the transmission, and it’s even got the car dealerships and travel centers that clearly will make it a player in the growing EV market.

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.

Special Report: Russell Athletic Gets Out of the Athletic Uniform Business

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

In a major move, Fruit of the Loom’s Russell Athletic brand will cease making athletic uniforms. The move marks the end of a long history in a product line that in the last decade has seen skyrocketing marketing costs.

“For over 115 years, Russell Athletic has provided quality apparel for athletes both on and off the field of play,” Scott Greene, Russell Athletic and Activewear Senior Vice-President for Brand Management, said in a statement. “We are proud of our heritage, but to build lasting relationships with a new generation of athletes, we will need to focus our efforts and play to our strengths.

“Today, we will begin to transition away from the team uniform business to allow greater emphasis on the consumer retail market. With this shift, we will continue to offer high quality athletic lifestyle and performance apparel for distribution through multiple retail and wholesale channels, including continued distribution of collegiate licensed products along with non-uniform apparel through the team dealer network.”

The Big Money Business of Uniform Deals

The move by the shoe companies Nike and Adidas to expand their product lines into the team apparel market eroded Russell Athletic’s share of the market. Major universities, including Alabama and Auburn, switched their contracts to the shoe companies, or to brands such as Under Armour.

Georgia Tech, which was one of the last major universities to have a contract with Russell Athletic, announced this summer that it would be changing companies to Adidas.

In the case of Georgia Tech, Russell Athletic signed a ten-year deal in 2008 that had it paying the university $8.4 million to be the exclusive uniform provider for all its teams. It also provided over $1 million a year in uniforms for players, and $100,000 a year in branded apparel per year for coaches and administrators. The company also paid additional money based on incentives tied to conference and national championships.

In exchange, Russell Athletic got a host of marketing opportunities, including signage in stadiums, announcements during games, and coaches participating in promotions.

No End in Sight

As large as those number are, they pale before sponsorships that are truly astronomical. In 2017, the University of Louisville signed a 10-year $160 million sponsorship with extension with Adidas.

In 2016, Business Journal found that the cost of signing a university had increased approximately 33 percent over the past five years, and that Nike, Adidas and Under Armour combined were paying over $300 million a year to university athletic departments.

Russell Athletic’s new strategy is to grow its direct to consumer business.

“Our new business strategy focuses on the growing athletic and lifestyle apparel market and developing products that will open new doors for retail distribution of our iconic brand,” Greene said in his statement. “An example of this will be the introduction of a new heritage-inspired product line available in spring of 2018. The new line will feature carefully crafted fleece, tees and other apparel. We are confident you’ll be seeing Russell Athletic on more and more consumers soon.”

Russell Corporation was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway in 2006 for $600 million and became a division of Fruit of the Loom. Its business had peaked a decade earlier when in 1992 it landed a five-year contract with Major League Baseball as the exclusive provider of uniforms. By 1995, the company was generating $1.25 billion in annual sales, and had 18,000 employees.

For Berkshire, which likes to acquire companies that have a strong moat protecting their market share, the athletic uniform business was increasingly an alligator filled moat with no castle behind 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.