Tag Archives: Special Report

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.

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.

Special Report: Berkshire Still Sitting on 4 trillion Cubic Feet of Natural Gas

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

In mid-November 2015, Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s Australian subsidiary, CalEnergy Resources, drilled a test well in Western Australia for what the company called a “significant gas field.”

The gas field, which is located below the Whicher Range, is estimated to contain four trillion cubic feet of gas-in-place.

CalEnergy is the sole titleholder and operator of the exploration permit EP 408 located approximately 280 kilometers south of Perth, and covers both the Whicher Range and Wonnerup gas fields.

The Long, Very Slow History of the Whicher Range Gas Fields

The gas fields were first discovered in 1968 and 1971, respectively, and are located in ancient sandstone reservoirs nearly four kilometers underground.

The big problem since its discovery has been how to get the gas and not lose your shirt doing it.

According to CalEnergy, the field is a candidate for traditional drilling methods, and hydraulic fracking is not considered a viable option.

In 2016, Peter Youngs, the Managing Director of CalEnergy Resources Group, discussed with MazorsEdge the progress on the development of the gas field, noting that “the field represents a large in place gas resource, its characteristics are challenging and there is much work still remaining to move this resource to a commercially developable status.”

As for the initial test well, Youngs said at the time, “we are encouraged by the flow rates, as seen during the test, but that the critical commercial assessment (of the flow rates) is subject to a period of substantial subsurface data integration work (which is ongoing).

Youngs also doubted that the field could be commercialized by 2017, and that has proven true.

As to when the gas field could start to produce meaningful amounts of natural gas, it still looks to be years away.

CalEnergy recently requested and received, a variation to the permit work program from the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) to undertake reservoir pressure monitoring – this involves data gauges being placed in the Whicher Range 1 (WR-1) and Whicher Range 4 (WR-4) wells.

The company is continuing with reservoir pressure monitoring, and is focused on enhancing their understanding of reservoir behavior.

In the interim, CalEnergy has launched a Care and Maintenance Environment Plan (CMEP) to maintain the current well sites and drilling pads.

Tantalizing Fruit, Just Out of Reach?

For fifty years, the gas fields of the Whicher Range have both held out the promise of enormous economic benefit, and the frustration of inaccessibility.

CalEnergy notes that in the past, “feasibility studies have failed to identify an economic technical strategy for the development of commercial gas production.”

The good news is that as a result of its tests, the company now believes that gas recovery is feasible, and it’s just a matter of when.

© 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

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

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.

Special Report: Berkshire’s Acquisition of Auto Group Sparks Soaring Dealership Valuations

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

In March of 2015, Berkshire Hathaway acquired the 80-dealership The Van Tuyl Group for $4.1 billion, moving the conglomerate into the auto retailing market. The move also set off a dramatic rise in auto dealership valuations that has rippled throughout the industry.

According to the Kerrigan Advisors’ Blue Sky Report, U.S. dealership buy/sell activity soared to record highs in 2015. The Report also identifies the types of players involved with “activity by new entrants outpacing public company acquisitions by over four to one.”

Kerrigan Advisors is a national dealership buy/sell advisory firm that publishes a quarterly report that tracks the multiples and analysis for each franchise in the luxury and non-luxury segments.

When Berkshire acquired Van Tuyl, Warren Buffett trumpeted the growth potential of the newly renamed Berkshire Hathaway Automotive.

“This is the beginning of a journey that will have no end,” Buffett noted upon completion of the acquisition of The Van Tuyl Group. “Cecil and Larry have given us the ideal platform with which to build an auto dealership business that will be thriving and growing 50 and 100 years from now. The fun has just started.”

The fun may have just started, but since then Berkshire has been relatively quiet in the acquisition market, with the April 2015 purchase of Frank Kent Honda in Fort Worth, Texas, one of the few additions.

The Blue Sky Report reveals that while the competition for auto dealerships was fierce in 2015, it did not favor the public companies, which in addition to Berkshire also includes CarMax and Penske Automotive Group.

“A number of iconic multi-dealership groups came to market in 2015 and were acquired by both established consolidators and new entrants. Faced with this stiffer competition, the publics found it more difficult to compete for larger group transactions, and represented just 7% of the buy/sell market in 2015. Meanwhile new dealership buyers, including family offices, private equity firms, and public conglomerates, acquired 29% of the franchises sold, a stunning accomplishment,” said Erin Kerrigan, Managing Director of Kerrigan Advisors. “We believe new entrants will increasingly shape dealership consolidation and meaningfully impact the future of auto retail.”

The Blue Sky Report goes on to note that while the market for auto dealerships is still very active, the market may be peaking.

“In 2015, dealership valuations rose to historically high levels, new entrants made sizable acquisitions, manufacturers approved numerous multi-dealership transactions, and real estate prices returned to pre-recession levels,” continued Kerrigan. “In summary, it was a year that is hard to beat. While the 2016 buy/sell market is expected to be as active as 2015, we anticipate the proportion of sellers completing a successful sale could decline as industry growth plateaus and dealership earnings come under pressure.”

Buffett Says Subtract a Billion

At Berkshire Hathaway’s 2016 annual meeting, Warren Buffett noted that the price for his Van Tuyl Group acquisition also included a billion dollars in securities. Van Tuyl also had a large extended warranty program that was acquired by Berkshire.

Buffett noted that people should “take a billion off the purchase price,” as the reported price has given other dealership groups an inflated sense of their market value.

Is there still a major auto dealership that’s just ripe for a Berkshire acquisition? Read this Mazor’s Edge Special Report.

(This article has been updated since it was first published.)

© 2016 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: Is Berkshire Hathaway About to Strike it Rich in Natural Gas?

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

With natural gas prices tumbling to prices not seen since January of 2002, a big natural gas field would not seem to be the hottest news, but Berkshire Hathaway’s success has often been based on running counter to the herd. They are patient enough to know that energy prices will be higher in the future, and they have the money to drill now when others are strapped for cash.

In mid-November, Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s Australian subsidiary, CalEnergy Resources,  drilled a test well in Western Australia for what could be what the company is calling modestly a “significant gas field.”

How Significant?

Four trillion cubic feet of gas-in-place significant.

Exploration permit EP 408 is located approximately 280 kilometers south of Perth, and covers both the Whicher Range and Wonnerup gas fields.

The gas fields were first discovered in 1968 and 1971, respectively, and are located in ancient sandstone reservoirs nearly four kilometers underground.

The fields contain an estimated four trillion cubic feet gas-in-place, and Berkshire’s share currently stands at approximately 84%. Other partners include Which Range Energy.

CalEnergy Resources is the operator, with Farley Riggs, Australia’s largest well testing and data acquisition service provider, running the testing program.

Currently, down hole gauges are being used on Whicher Range-1 and Whicher Range-4/ST1 to test the interconnectivity of the reservoir before a three-month well test commences, The test will hopefully demonstrate flow rates in excess of four million cubic feet per day.

Not About Fracking

While the excitement in the oil and gas business in recent years has been all about fracking, the tumble in energy prices has hurt the fracking business due to its relatively high cost of energy recovery.

Fortunately, the Whicher Range and Wonnerup gas fields are conventional gas fields, and are neither shale gas nor coal seam gas. The cost of recovery should be much lower than gas produced by fracking.

Natural Gas for Western Australia

The natural gas will support the growing energy needs of Perth’s 1.8 million people. The fields are located on the southern edge of the State’s current gas pipeline network, and are roughly 20 kilometers south of Busselton. The cost of connecting to the pipeline is estimated to be in the range of $10 million Australian dollars.

Berkshire Hathaway and Energy Exploration

While Berkshire has built up one of the largest renewable energy portfolios in the world, with solar and wind power leading the way, it’s not a company people think of when it comes to fossil fuel exploration.

As always, Berkshire is full of surprises.

(This article has been updated since it was first published.)

© 2015-2016 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.