Up until a few weeks ago, Berkshire Hathaway’s enormous pile of cash, which had reached $125 billion, and was growing $1.5 billion a month, was taken by many as a sign of failure on the part of Warren Buffett.
Increasing cries for a dividend, or increased buybacks (despite the stock sitting at or near record highs) was just some of the popular chatter.
What a difference a few weeks makes.
With the markets experiencing extreme volatility, and many businesses forced to close or facing plummeting demand, Buffett’s patience finally looks like it has met conditions where his value investing strategies can excel.
As share prices fall, Buffett clearly has the chance to use his elephant gun to bag his elephant, as he likes to call the acquisition of a major company, which is something he hasn’t done since acquiring Precision Castparts in 2016.
The opportunities are many, as valuations have retreated so significantly that Berkshire now holds more cash than the market valuations of more than 450 companies in the S&P 500, over 80 in the Nasdaq 100, and 11 that make up the Dow 30.
In addition to acquiring his elephant or two, Buffett will certainly have opportunities to help companies shore up their balance sheets through his favorite method—receiving preferred stock that pays generous interest, and receiving warrants for common stock purchases.
The latter, as in the case of his rescue of Bank of America during the Great Recession, pays off handsomely once the economy and stock prices have recovered. As proof, Berkshire now owns just over 9.9% of the bank.
It will be interesting to see what strategies Buffett employs, and whether there are more opportunities in the purchase of whole companies, or in grabbing generous chunks of a wide range of companies. He might even increase his buyback of Berkshire stock, because owning more of one of the world’s healthiest and diversified conglomerates makes sense at these prices.
Perhaps investors big and small should do the same, as Berkshire’s P/E ratio of sat at only 5.38 as of Friday, March 27.
Let’s not forget that in addition to being poised for Berkshire’s expansion while others are contracting, Buffett has also insured the short term and long term health of Berkshire itself. He has always held $20-$25 billion in reserve for the conglomerates own needs during the worst of times.
These might be the worst of times for some, but for Buffett, who famously said in his 1986 Letter to Shareholders, “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful,” these are the best of times to invest.
In a couple of months, Berkshire’s next 13F filing will reveal just how much stock he and his trust lieutenants Todd Combs and Ted Weschler have acquired, and we may know even sooner if an elephant comes within range.
It will be interesting to see how greedy Buffett gets.
© 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.