Sunday February 26, 2012

Sunday Papers

Buffet Blandishes Big Bucks

Good Times decade for insurance industry means ample liquid capital

Submitted by Jack Bass, Chilliwack


aturday Feb 25th the Annual Berkshire Hathaway letter from Buffett to the shareholders and investing world is on-line.

I follow Buffett ( and I urge you to do the same ) because as I wrote  in Appprentice Millionaire Portfolio 2012 ( now at the editor) – success leaves footprints.

Here is a small part of that letter, which also  talks directly about the succession – when Warren and Charlie Munger step aside.

• On September 16  aquired Lubrizol, a worldwide producer of additives and other specialtychemicals. The company has had an outstanding record since James Hambrick became CEO in 2004, with pre-tax profits increasing from $147 million to $1,085 million. Lubrizol will have many opportunities for “bolt-on” acquisitions in the specialty chemical field. Indeed, we’ve already agreed to three, costing $493 million. James is a disciplined buyer and a superb operator. Charlie and I are eager to expand his managerial domain.

• Our major businesses did well last year. In fact, each of our five largest non-insurance companies – BNSF, Iscar, Lubrizol, Marmon Group and MidAmerican Energy – delivered record operating earnings. In aggregate these businesses earned more than $9 billion pre-tax in 2011. Contrast that to seven years ago, when we owned only one of the five, MidAmerican, whose pre-tax earnings were $393 million. Unless the economy weakens in 2012, each of our fabulous five should again set a record, with aggregate earnings comfortably topping $10 billion.

• Our insurance operations continued their delivery of costless capital that funds a myriad of other opportunities. This business produces “float” – money that doesn’t belong to us, but that we get to invest for Berkshire’s benefit. And if we pay out less in losses and expenses than we receive in premiums, we additionally earn an underwriting profit, meaning the float costs us less than nothing. Though we are sure to have underwriting losses from time to time, we’ve now had nine consecutive years of underwriting profits, totaling about $17 billion. Over the same nine years our float increased from $41 billion to its current record of $70 billion. Insurance has been good to us.

• Finally, we made two major investments in marketable securities:

 (1) a $5 billion 6% preferred stock of Bank of America that came with warrants allowing us to buy 700 million common shares at $7.14 per share any time before September 2, 2021; and

 (2) 63.9 million shares of IBM that cost us $10.9 billion.

Counting IBM, we now have large ownership interests in four exceptional companies: 13.0% of American Express, 8.8% of Coca-Cola, 5.5% of IBM and 7.6% of Wells Fargo. (We also, of course, have many smaller, but important, positions.)

We view these holdings as partnership interests in wonderful businesses, not as marketable securities to be bought or sold based on their near-term prospects. Our share of their earnings, however, are far from fully reflected in our earnings; only the dividends we receive from these businesses show up in our financial reports. Over time, though, the undistributed earnings of these companies that are attributable to our ownership are of huge importance to us. That’s because they will be used in a variety of ways to increase future earnings and dividends of the investee. They may also be devoted to stock repurchases, which will increase our share of the company’s future earnings.

For the full letter go here.

Jack A. Bass

Market letter



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