Tag Archives: Berkshire Hathaway

Synchrony Financial (SYF) – a Spin-off that is better than its Parent GE ?

While looking at General Electric some days ago, I remembered that I had the IPO/Spin-off GE Capital Credit Cards which is now Synchrony Financial on my research list for quite some time.

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Company Background

This is from the 2016 annual report explaining how Synchrony was separated from GE:

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Some notes from the Berkshire 2016 Report & Letter to the Shareholders

To sum it upfront: In my opinion there was nothing “really new” or spectacular in Buffett’s 2016 letter.

Operationally, 2016 was not such a good year for Berkshire, operating profit was flat and book value gain lower than the S&P. Nevertheless Berkshire’s stock price outperformed the S&P 500. Comprehensive income however was very good, around 50% better than 2015 (which was not very good).

Net tangible assets declined to around 170 bn from 186 bn mostly due to the Precision Cast Part acquisition which added more than 40 bn in intangibles.

I made some notes which might be interesting to some reader (or not).

Berkshire share repurchases:

The most interesting part from my side was where he writes about share repurchases in general and Berkshire in particular. I actually know some investors who treat the “Buffett put” at 120% of NAV as a real one, assuming that the stock price can never go below that level. This is what Buffet says:

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Exor SpA: Buying a Reinsurance company doesn’t mean that you’re the “next Bershire”

Following my Old Mutual “sum of parts” valuation I saw the following Ira Sohn presentation of Exor Spa, the Agnelli family holding (FiatChysler, CNH etc.) as a potential  “Sum of part” value investment.

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To summarize the presentation  in my own words:

  • Exor Spa is basically a “Berkshire like” company at a “Graham” valuation
  • Exor is managed by a “great capital allocator” and trades at a discount as people see it as an Italian company
  • After the acquisition of Reinsurance Partner Re Exor should trade at similar valuations as Berkshire or Markel
  • Big upside potential as FiatChrysler, Ferrari (and CNH) are severely undervalued (“Coiled springs”)

The study sees a potential upside of several times the current share price. They forecast a 150 EUR NAV per share (vs. ~50 EUR now and 30 EUR share prices), driven by a quadrupling in value of the FCA and the CNH stakes.

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Kinder Morgan (KMI): Slow moving train wreck or Contrarian opportunity ?

In late 2014 I started looking into oil related companies. I have looked at a couple of energy related companies like explorer Peyto, LNG liquification terminal Cheniere , Consol Energy and Gaztransport. I only bought Gaztransport which I then sold 6 weeks later. As I am still interested in the Energy sector, I will cover some stocks from time to time.

Kinder Morgan, the US pipeline owner/operator looks like another typical potential contrarian “Value investment”.

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What I liked at first sight: Read more

My 6 observations on Berkshire’s 2015 annual report

One general remark upfront: The 2015 annual report wasn’t that exciting in my opinion. Actually, I didn’t plan to write a post on it. However, after reading a couple of posts on the topic, I though maybe some readers are interested because I haven’t seen those points mentioned very often elsewhere.

  1. Bad year for GEICO

GEICO had a pretty bad year in 2015. The loss ratio (in percent of premium) increased to 82,1% (from 77,7%), the Combined ratio increased to 98% and the underwriting profit fell by -60%. Buffett talks about the cost advantage a lot in the letter, but the only explanation forthe increase in loss ratios are found in the actual report:

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Greenlight Re (GLRE): Poor man’s Berkshire or interesting bet on a David Einhorn Comeback ?

Management Summary:

Greenlight Re is an interesting special situation in my opinion combining 2 bets in one stock:

1. It is a bet that David Einhorn will come back after his worst year ever and 4 years of underperformance
2. Greenlight Re, the Reinsurance company whose investments he manages “mean reverts” at least closer to its historical price book ratio.

This “bet” should be relatively uncorrelated to the overall market and due to the construction of the investment mandate, Einhorn can charge only half of the performance fee for some time.

Disclaimer: This is not investment advise. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH !!!

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Buffett & Munger on Cost of Capital: Don’t listen to what they say but look at what they do

After bashing David Einhorn for his Consol Energy WACC assumption last week, by chance I read at the very good 25iq blog an article on how Buffett and Munger publicly speak about those things.

Indirectly, this is clearly a slap in my face because even the headline already says it all:

 

Why and how do Munger and Buffett “discount the future cash flows” at the 30-year U.S. Treasury Rate?

The post summarizes what Charlie and Warren have said over the years with regard to cost of capital and discounting. I try to summarize it as follows:

  • They seem to use the same discount rate for every investment, the 30 year Treasury rate
  • in a second step they then require a “margin of safety” against the price at offer
  • they estimate cash flows conservatively
  • Somehow Buffet seems to have a 10% hurdle nevertheless
  • Buffett compares potential new investment for instance with adding more to Wells Fargo

So if Buffett doesn’t use more elaborated methods why should any one else ? Was I wrong to beat up David Einhorn because he used a pretty low rate for Consol Energy ? Add to this Mungers famous quote “I’ve never heard an intelligent cost of capital discussion” and we seem to waste a lot of time here, right ?

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Book review: “Damn Right: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger” – Janet Lowe

The success story of Berkshire for a long time has focused only on Warren Buffett, the front man with the knack of explaining even the most complicated issues in a funny and folksy manner. Charlie Munger was for a long time only considered to be the “funny side-kick” who seems to be asleep most of the time during Berkshire’s annual share holder meeting.

This changed somehow in the last few years, among them the excellent “Poor Charlie’s Almanack” from Peter Kaufmann and there seem to be a couple of Charlie Munger books already released or in the pipeline.

So I was pretty surprised that there is a much older book about Charlie than the others. “Damn Right” was written and released in 2000 and is based on many interviews, some with Charlie Munger directly but also with his family and former colleagues and friends. 2000 was a year where many people thought that Berkshire had lost it, maybe one reason why the book didn’t become more well-known.

The book starts slowly with some stories on his parents and grand parents but gets more interesting pretty quickly. Munger started early on as a lawyer but discovered that he can make more money by being a real estate developer and started buying plots, building and selling apartments and houses. He then started to buy parts of or whole small companies. For a very long time he did so as a pure “Graham investor”, picking up bargains or even net nets.

Munger then started Munger Wheeler in the 60ies but was already discussing investment ideas with Buffett over the phone. He also invested together with Buffett and another Californian investor and friend Rick Guierin (One of Buffett’s “Superinvestors”) into the same companies sometimes even closely held ones. The most famous common acquisition of this time was the Blue Stamp company.

Wheeler & Munger performed greatly from 1962 to 1969 but did badly the next few years when Warren Buffett hat already closed his partnership. Munger dissolved the partnership in 1976 but still had a track record of making ~24% p.a.against 6% p.a. fr the Dow Jones.

The changing point in his history is clearly the purchase of See’s where they paid, for the first time in their history, above book value for a company. Munger is quoted that they would not have bought Coke if they hadn’t started with See’s.

After that the book covers some of the major Berkshire stories but with an interesting perspective. For me the most surprising facts from the book were:

– Munger and Buffett were fined by the SEC in 1974 (WESCO)
– Munger’s Partner had the original See’s Candy idea
– Munger was a “Graham style investor” for a very long time
– there were really big draw downs in the Munger partnership

Interestingly enough, the book says that already in the late 90ies, Munger wasn’t involved that actively in Berkshire anymore. For me the question always remains: Would Buffett had been as succesful without meeting Munger or would he would have become “just another succesful” investor ? Who knows.

Overall the book is definitely a good read for any value investor and tells most of the Berkshire story from a slightly different perspective. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

18 observations from Berkshire’s 2014 annual report

Just an upfront note: I have written down those items while reading the 2014 annual report for the first time. Usually I read them at least twice. This year’s report contains a 4 page letter from Charlie Munger (page 39), nicely summarizing the “Berkshire system”. Overall, Buffett and Munger seem to emphasize in this year’s report that they see a great future ahead for Berkshire, even without them on board.

I would recommend anyone to read the annual report first before reading any comments from secondary sources. It is a lot to read but it is definitely worth your time.

My personal take is that it will be extremely hard for any succesor to fit into Buffett’s (and Munger’s) shoes. This company was built by and around two geniuses. Yes, the “Berkshire system” does have some enduring qualities but combined with the size of the company, it will be extremely hard to deliver outstanding performance ging forward.

Call for comments: Comments from my readers about what items you did find especially noteworthy would be highly appreciated !!!!

1. 50 year history

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