Warren Buffett (BRK.B), the fourth richest person in the world-estimated at $53 billion, according to Forbes-is creating a sensation among NCAA basketball fans by offering a billion dollars to anyone who can predict the March Madness bracket perfectly. See our prior article here.
Although this may sound like a preemptive April Fool's prank, his offer is genuine and is being made in partnership with Dan Gilbert, who owns the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans. According to Forbes, Gilbert's net worth of $3.9 billion ranks him as 384th richest person in the world. Together, Buffett's and Gilbert's game is being called the "Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket."
However, there is a catch: the odds of being right 63 times in a row are 1 in 4,294,967,296. To reward those who can do the math, however, Quicken will offer a consolation prize of $100,000 for the purchasing, refinancing, or remodeling a home to each of the 20 people who can predict the closest brackets.
At the end of the day, the entire wager is actually a publicity stunt to tap into the nation's enthusiasm for sports. It is working well, with an estimated 38,000 retweets on the topic already.
While the contest is amusing and will certainly create a growing wave of publicity for both billionaires in a nation known for its sport's mania--one wonders whether Buffett would have been better off betting his billion on Berkshire Hathaway shares.
Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) is performing below the S&P 500 in 2014 by 220 points. It has been down 7.2% from the first of this year. The book value on September 30th for Class A shares was $126.8K, and the shares are now trading at $165,000--only 1.3x book value. According to Buffett's own investment philosophy, it makes perfect sense to buy these shares at the current price. See figure below.
Let's take a quick look at why the company is a solid buy for investors.
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is a holding company that owns subsidiaries in a large number of variegated business industries, including:
• A number of insurance businesses, primary and reinsurance; for instance, GEICO and Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group;
• The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, the second biggest freight railroad in North America (the first is Union Pacific Railway);
• Utility and energy-generation businesses; and
• A 20% stake in International Metalworking Companies and 66.7% stake in the residential estate brokerage franchise network in the U.S.
Playing Buffet's NCAA March Madness contest could offer far less reward than simply buying Berkshire Hathaway shares at current market prices. At 220 basis points below the S&P 500, you may even wonder why Warren Buffett himself is not buying back his shares.