Tag Archives: Commentary

Commentary: NetJets Makes High Speed Move Into Supersonic Jets

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Competition in the fractional jet ownership business is getting fiercer, as the biggest players, Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets, and its main competitor Flexjet, prepare to spend billions on the return of supersonic flight for the business jet market.

Supersonic flight will give these companies a substantial competitive advantage over commercial airlines in their competition for first class customers, especially for long distance overseas flights.

The new supersonic business jets will fall into an interesting category of jets that will have a decided advantage over other private jets, but will be too expensive for most people to own outright.

While the supersonic business jet market offers opportunity, it also comes at a high cost, with the price of each jet at over $100 million.

That’s the perfect opening for fractional ownership companies to plot their growth.

In 2015, Flexjet became the first fractional jet ownership company to place a firm order for the jets, when they ordered twenty of Aerion’s AS2 aircraft.

Now, Aerion has made an expansive collaboration with NetJets and FlightSafety International, two Berkshire Hathaway companies, which will be sure to impact the private jet market.

Underlining the long-term focus of the partnership, NetJets has also obtained purchase rights for 20 AS2 supersonic business jets.

Aerion will start production at Aerion Park in Melbourne, Florida in 2023.

With significant growth achieved through 2020 and 2021, Aerion’s global order backlog for the AS2 is now valued at more than USD $10 billion. The new AS2—the first supersonic aircraft to enter commercial service in 51 years and the world’s first supersonic business aircraft— continues to advance toward manufacturing start after concluding wind tunnel validation late last year.

“As the leader in private aviation, we constantly look for ways to be on the cutting-edge, and expanding our fleet to become the exclusive business jet operator for Aerion Connect is a thrilling next step,” said Adam Johnson, Chairman and CEO of NetJets Inc. “Together, we will be exploring the integration of the AS2 supersonic business jet into NetJets’ global network, and we are honored to be their chosen partner to enable the Aerion Connect vision.”

Aerion will explore NetJets’ becoming the exclusive business jet operator for the global mobility platform, Aerion Connect. A vision for a future global mobility ecosystem, Aerion Connect will integrate multiple, currently siloed urban and regional networks and provide a seamless point-to-point travel experience, optimized for speed and luxury across multiple modes of transportation.

In collaboration with FlightSafety International, the premier professional aviation training company, Aerion will also develop a supersonic flight training academy for civil, commercial, and military supersonic aircraft. The Aerion-branded facility will channel FSI’s comprehensive global training expertise to provide a center of excellence for supersonic flight training and education, shaping the flight crews of the future.

The supersonic planes will give corporate leaders and other high-end travelers a compelling reason to consider fractional ownership. Even cross-country travel, which draws additional concerns about sonic booms, will be faster.

Aerion claims that its Boomless Cruise flight is feasible at speeds up to Mach 1.2, depending on atmospheric conditions, principally temperature and wind.

The company hopes that the U.S. will adopt International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, permitting supersonic speeds over the U.S. Supersonic flights are currently prohibited.

Aerion claims that at speeds around Mach 1.2 a “sonic boom would, essentially, dissipate before reaching the ground.”

The Aerion AS2

The Aerion AS2 is a three-engine jet and is larger than the originally conceived Aerion supersonic business jet. Fuselage length is 160 feet and maximum takeoff weight is 115,000 pounds. Minimum projected range is 4,750 nautical miles with the intention to achieve a range of more than 5,000 nautical miles.

The aircraft will have a 30-foot cabin in a two-lounge layout plus galley and both forward and aft lavatories, plus a baggage compartment that is accessible in-flight. Cabin dimensions widen from entryway to the aft seating area where height is six feet, two inches and cabin width is seven feet, three inches.

Carrying eight to 12 passengers, the AS2 has an intercontinental-capable range of 4,750 nautical miles at supersonic speed.

One thing that is clear, only the strongest of the fractional ownership companies will be able to compete in this market, giving them a clear advantage over smaller charter companies, and a major capability advantage over commercial airlines.

© 2021 David Mazor

Commentary: Is Berkshire Hathaway Moving Closer to Acquiring DaVita?

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Is DaVita Inc. (DVA) an acquisition target for Berkshire Hathaway? It is no secret that the Berkshire has long held a stake in the kidney dialysis provider.

Berkshire’s stake in DaVita goes back to 2012, when it began buying a million shares a month.

Why DaVita?

DaVita, which has over 200,000 daily dialysis clients in the U.S. and ten other countries, is the kind of predictable, steady business that Warren Buffett covets.

What is New?

Back in 2013, Berkshire Hathaway agreed to standstill agreement whereby it would not increase its stake in DaVita beyond 25%. However, in recent years its stake has crossed the 30% threshold, with Berkshire revealing on February 16, 2021, that it had boosted its position to a 33% stake.

Could Berkshire’s increased stake in DaVita be the prelude to an acquisition? That’s the question that both Berkshire and DaVita investors may start asking.

© 2021 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.

Commentary: Think Berkshire Hathaway Is Diversified? You Don’t Know The Half Of It

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

“Where can I find a list of Berkshire Hathaway’s companies?” It is a frequent question.

As someone that spends a good bit of time writing about Berkshire Hathaway’s companies, I can tell you that I’ve never seen a consolidated list of all of Berkshire’s wholly-owned companies. (This is distinct from the companies like Amex, or Coca-Cola that are in Berkshire’s stock portfolio.) Yes, there is a list of companies on Berkshire’s website, but it does not truly give you the picture of all the company that the conglomerate owns.

First, because Berkshire not only owns a lot a stand-alone companies, some of which everyone knows (BNSF, GEICO, NetJets, Dairy Queen), and others that are far less familiar (Mouser Electronics, Berkshire Hathaway E-Supply) but they also own other holding companies, such as Marmon Holdings, Richline Group, IMC International Metalworking Companies, and Scott Fetzer.

Marmon, for example, owns over 100 manufacturing companies. These are not little mom and pop shops, but major manufacturing companies in their own right. For example, Marmon owns Cornelius, the billion dollar worldwide leader in beverage dispensers. Go into a fast food restaurant, hotel breakfast bar, or gas station that has a fill-a-cup dispenser and it likely says Cornelius.

And second, because so many of Berkshire’s companies own other companies.

You may have heard of Richline Group, but have you heard of DRL Manufacturing S.A., located in San Pedro, Dominican Republic? It’s a jewelry manufacturing company with 800 employees.

Or take a look at McLane Company. In 2012, McLane acquired Meadowbrook Meat Company (a $6 billion foodservice distributor with 3,300 employees.) But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Some of Berkshire’s companies’ companies own companies. Yes, that’s not a typo.

Speaking of McLane Company, McLane owns wine and spirits distributor Empire Brands, and Empire Brands acquired Horizon Wine & Spirits Inc. So, Berkshire owns McLane, which owns Empire Brands, which owns Horizon.

You can call them divisions or subsidiaries, but they were often stand-alone businesses when they were acquired by one of Berkshire’s companies.

Let me give you one more example of this. Berkshire owns Fruit of the Loom, and mentions them in the annual report. However, that’s just the start for understanding what Berkshire owns with Fruit of the Loom.

In 2006, Fruit of the Loom acquired Russell Brands. At the time, Russell Brands owned Russell Athletic, Brooks Running, and Spalding, among other brands. So, when you see a Spalding basketball, you are actually seeing a product of a wholly-owned Berkshire company, even though when you go to the bottom of the Spalding website it just mentions Russell Brands, LLC.

While much of the press focus with Berkshire Hathaway is whether or not Warren Buffett has acquired an “elephant” (a giant-sized acquisition), yet every year Berkshire spends billions acquiring more companies through bolt-on acquisitions to its existing companies.

This is a very wise approach, as Berkshire’s managers know what is additive to their companies. And, if Buffett agrees that this is a good use of capital, they strengthen their respective companies through acquisitions.

Note to Berkshire shareholders, this is why the Berkshire you own now is even better than the Berkshire you owned ten years ago. Its companies have continued to make meaningful acquisitions that expand their operations.

Take Clayton Homes, the leader in mobile, modular and manufactured homes. In 2016 Clayton acquired Goodall Homes, in 2018 they acquired Arbor Homes (Indianapolis’s largest home builder), and in 2019 they acquired Highland Homes. So, now Clayton is not only the leader in mobile homes, but also a growing player in site-built homes, as well.

Sometimes the acquisitions are phased in. Right now, Berkshire is a minority owner of Pilot Company, the leading supplier of fuel and the largest operator of travel centers in North America. In 2020, Berkshire will become the majority owner, and whenever you stop at a Pilot Travel Center, Pilot Food Mart, or a Flying J gas station, you will be at a Berkshire Hathaway company. But even that won’t tell you the full story on Pilot, as Pilot acquired Equipment Transport, LLC, a wellsite services company, and also runs the fourth-largest tanker fleet in the U.S.

Berkshire and its companies are like a giant nesting doll. Open one and there is often another inside.

The point of all this is that Berkshire Hathaway is not just diversified, it is really, really diversified.

© 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.

Commentary: Buffett Casts His Vote with Dominion Energy Assets Acquisition

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

With Berkshire Hathaway’s $9.7 billion agreement to acquire Dominion Energy’s natural gas transmission and storage business, Warren Buffett has engaged in a strategy that is familiar to Buffet watchers—the choice between owning a part of a company through equities, or the acquisition of whole companies. It’s a choice that Buffett that has made for almost six decades based on which valuation he judges to be cheaper.

At this year’s annual meeting, Buffett revealed that he had bought relatively few stocks at a time when the market’s plunge had many seeing a rare buying opportunity. Buffett thought differently, and his sale of Berkshire’s entire commercial airline portfolio due to what he felt would be long term profitability issues for United, Delta, American, and Southwest, reflected that perspective.

Now, Buffett has found something he likes. It is an acquisition that makes Berkshire Hathaway a giant in natural gas distribution, vaulting it from carrying 8% of the nation’s natural gas to 18%.

The acquisition adds to one of Berkshire’s core businesses, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which will acquire 100% of Dominion Energy Transmission, Questar Pipeline and Carolina Gas Transmission; and 50% of Iroquois Gas Transmission System. Additionally, Berkshire will acquire 25% of Cove Point LNG – an LNG export, import and storage facility in Maryland.

The acquisition includes over 7,700 miles of natural gas transmission lines, with approximately 20.8 billion cubic feet per day of transportation capacity and 900 billion cubic feet of operated natural gas storage with 364 billion cubic feet of company-owned working storage capacity, and partial ownership of a liquefied natural gas export, import and storage facility.

Demand for natural gas has risen from 4,917,152 million cubic feet in 1949 to 31,014,345 million cubic feet in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And with the retirement of more and more coal-fired generating plants, natural gas is a key replacement. Even with the enormous growth of wind and solar, new gas-fired plants are being constructed as backup generation for when the winds are calm and the skies are cloudy.

By making this acquisition, Buffett adds key assets to Berkshire Hathaway Energy that will guarantee a pay-off not just in the short term, but for decades to come. And that’s exactly what Buffet likes, putting money to work for decades to come.

This is not to say that Buffett won’t return to buying equities, but for now, he has voted with his dollars that the better deal in the near term is the acquisition of a whole company.

© 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.

Commentary: Buffett Affirms Berkshire’s 3 Pillars Stand Strong

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Berkshire Hathaway is so diversified that it’s impossible for it not to be impacted adversely by COVID-19. Automobile retailing through its Berkshire Hathaway Automotive network of dealerships, furniture retailing (Nebraska Furniture Mart, Jordan’s, Star Furniture, RC Willey Home Furnishings), and the See’s Candies retail stores, are just a few of its companies that are facing slumping revenues.

At the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting held on May 2, Warren Buffett noted that the swift temporary closure of See’s retail stores in late-March left it with a huge inventory of Easter candy that will go unsold.

“…we were in the midst of our Easter season and Easter is a big sales period for See’s. And I don’t know whether we were halfway through, but we weren’t halfway through in terms of the volume is going to be delivered because it comes toward the end. And essentially we were shut down and we remain shut down. The malls that we’ve got 220 or so retail stores and we’ve got a lot of, Furniture Mart sells our candy. But the Furniture Mart’s closed down. And so See’s business stopped and it’s a very seasonal business to start with. So we have a lot of seasonal workers too that come in, particularly for the Christmas season. But we have a lot Easter candy, and Easter candy is kind of specialized too. So we won’t sell it. And we produced a good bit of it.”

Getting Nervous? Don’t Be

However, amidst the bad news was a key point that Buffett emphasized. The three main pillars of Berkshire Hathaway—its insurance, freight railroad, and energy business, are all strong and will continue to generate cash.

“Our three major businesses of insurance and the BNSF railroad, railroad and our energy business, those are our three largest by some margin. They’re in a reasonably decent position,” Buffett explained. “They will spend more than their depreciation. So some of the earnings will go, along with depreciation, will go toward increasing fixed assets. But basically these businesses will produce cash even though their earnings decline somewhat.”

Berkshire’s businesses are so strong because planning for the worst case scenario is at the heart of Buffett’s philosophy. Buffett explained that they even plan for more than one disaster.

“I mean, for example, in our insurance business, we could have the world’s, or the country’s, number one hurricane that it’s ever had, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that could have the biggest earthquake a month later. So we don’t prepare ourselves for a single problem. We prepare ourselves for problems that sometimes create their own momentum. I mean 2008 and 9, you didn’t see all the problems the first day, when what really kicked it off was when the Freddie and Fannie, the GSEs went into conservatorship in early September. And then when money market funds broke the buck… There are things to trip other things, and we take a very much a worst case scenario into mind that probably is a considerably worse case than most people do.”

And if that’s not enough to reassure you, don’t forget that Berkshire has $137 billion in cash.

© 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.

Commentary: Buffett’s Cash Pile Not a Source of Ridicule Anymore

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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.