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May 15, 2015, 5:07 PM
- Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) owned 6.2M shares of 21st Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) at the end of Q1, up from 4.7M at the end of Q4, the quarter in which the stake was established.
- Warren Buffett's firm also upped its stake in Precision Castparts (NYSE:PCP) to 4.2M shares from 2.9M, and in Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) to 7.5M from 6.6M. Berkshire's positions in IBM, Wells Fargo, Deere, and U.S. Bancorp were modestly increased. Dan Loeb cut his Phillips 66 stake in Q1.
- Berkshire cut its stake in oil/gas equipment maker National Oilwell (NYSE:NOV) to 2M shares from 5.3M at the end of Q4. Positions in MasterCard, Visa, Charter, WABCO, Bank of New York, Liberty Global, and Viacom were modestly cut.
- No new positions were taken in Q1, nor were any positions fully liquidated. Wells Fargo ($25.6B stake at the end of Q1) remains Berkshire's biggest holding, followed by Coca-Cola ($16.2B), IBM ($12.8B), American Express ($11.8B), and Wal-Mart ($5B).
- Berkshire's Q1 13F filing
- Two weeks ago: Notes from Berkshire's annual meeting
May 13, 2015, 11:24 AM
- The U.S. oil industry is challenging new rules aimed at improving the safety of moving crude oil by rail, as the American Petroleum Institute petitions the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to block key provisions of rules unveiled earlier this month.
- The petition seeks to block a requirement that older tank cars be retrofitted with new safety features designed to prevent them from spilling oil or rupturing in a derailment, and challenges a requirement that tank cars be equipped with new electronic braking systems or face operational restrictions.
- Environmental groups say the new rules do not go far enough, and are considering their own legal challenge.
- Relevant tickers: CSX, NSC, UNP, CNI, CP, KSU, BRK.A, BRK.B, GBX, WAB, TRN, ARII, RAIL
May 6, 2015, 11:44 AM
- A BNSF (BRK.A, BRK.B) train carrying crude oil derailed and burst into flames this morning near Heimdal, N.D., forcing the evacuation of the small town.
- The derailment involved a train with 109 cars, five of which reportedly are burning; 6-7 cars were derailed in the incident, although the cause is not yet known.
- The derailment occurred less than a week after the U.S. government proposed new rules to improve the safe transportation of crude oil.
May 5, 2015, 5:43 PM
- Norfolk Southern (NYSE:NSC) CEO Wick Moorman says the rail industry will challenge the U.S. government’s new crude-by-rail regulations, worried that the new rules could make shipping crude oil by train prohibitively expensive.
- The Department of Transportation last Friday called for the installation of new braking systems on trains hauling more than 70 cars of crude oil by 2021, a requirement Moorman says took the rail industry by surprise.
- The CEO tells WSJ that the new rules place railroads in a difficult spot because railroads do not own the vast majority of tank cars and thus have no control over whether the costly new brakes are installed; also, the brake requirement is not a mandate for tank car owners, only railroads, he says.
- Moorman says he is sure the industry will challenge the new rules either in court or petition the DoT for reconsideration.
- Relevant tickers: CSX, UNP, CNI, CP, KSU, BRK.A, BRK.B, GBX, WAB, TRN, ARII, RAIL
May 3, 2015, 6:36 AM
- Warren Buffett also rejected the idea that Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) was "too big to fail" at yesterday's annual shareholders meeting, stating that the sprawling conglomerate does require tighter regulatory oversight.
- "There is no reason, in logic or in terms of what we've heard, to think that Berkshire would be designated as a SIFI," the Oracle declared. "I do not think Berkshire comes within miles of qualifying as a SIFI."
- A SIFI (systemically important financial institution) designation subjects firms to additional regulatory requirements that can impede on their growth and profitability.
- Previously: Notes from 2015's "Capitalist Woodstock" (May. 02 2015)
- Previously: Bank of England: How come Berkshire not a SIFI? (Apr. 20 2015)
May 2, 2015, 4:24 PM
- "I make no apologies whatsoever for Clayton's lending practices," says Warren Buffett, responding to a Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) shareholder who says he's disgusted Berkshire would support Clayton Homes' allegedly predatory lending practices. "Clayton," says Buffett, "has behaved very well."
- Previously: Berkshire mobile homes unit accused of predatory tactics (April 6)
- Only about 3% of Clayton's $12B in mortgages on 300K homes fail, says Buffett, noting Clayton does not securitize the paper, but instead holds the notes on its books.
- The Oracle also defended his partnership with 3G - an outfit which has won a well-deserved reputation for ruthless cost-cutting, seemingly at odds with Buffett's distaste for layoffs and other expense reductions.
- See: Zero-Based Budgeting, 3G's secret sauce
- Buffett: “I don’t know of any company that says, as a policy, ‘we will have more people than we need,’ but a lot of companies ended up that way." Layoffs at 3G-run companies have spurred those companies to perform "exceedingly well."
- On American Express (NYSE:AXP): While the payments industry is subject to innovation, AmEx has an incredible history of adapting.
- On IBM: Asked if this is a "cigar butt" company - a great old company on the slide, but still a couple of puffs left (like Berkshire Hathaway when Buffett bought) - Charlie Munger says it isn't. He reminds that IBM was the dominant player in punch cards and has adapted over the years. It helps, says Munger, that Berkshire bought its stake at a reasonable price. "If people weren't often so wrong, we wouldn't be so rich."
- Live blog of the meeting at the WSJ
May 1, 2015, 5:41 PM
- Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B): Q1 operating profit per Class A share of $2,583 beats by $210. Operating profit rose 20% Y/Y to $4.24B.
- Net profit rose 10% Y/Y to $5.16B, or $3,143 per Class A share. Revenue rose 7% Y/Y to $48.6B.
- Book value per Class A share rose to $146,963 from $146,186 at the end of Q4. Insurance float was $83.5B vs. $84B at the end of Q4.
May 1, 2015, 2:36 PM
- U.S. regulators issue tough new rules for safer transportation of crude oil by trains, introducing a new tank car standard and mandating the use of new braking technology.
- The rules require that the oldest, least safe tank cars be replaced within three years with new cars that have thicker shells, higher safety shields and better fire protection; a later generation of tank cars, built since 2011 with more safety features, will have to be retrofitted or replaced by 2020.
- Regulators are not asking railroads to notify communities of any oil train traffic but will require a “point of contact” for information related to the routing of hazardous materials.
- Shares of tank car makers are higher: GBX +7.2%, WAB +7.4%, TRN +7.4%, ARII +7.2%, RAIL +5.7%.
- Other relevant tickers: CSX, NSC, UNP, CNI, CP, KSU, BRK.A, BRK.B
Apr. 27, 2015, 12:59 PM
- Declining output from shale oil fields has in turn cut demand for key types of railroad cars, according to new industry figures, in the latest sign of the fallout from lower crude oil prices.
- Buyers ordered 4,470 new railway tank cars during Q1, down 6% Y/Y and ~70% below the nearly 15K tank cars ordered during Q4, according to the Railway Supply Institute trade group.
- Q1 orders for covered “hopper” cars, used mostly to deliver fracking sand to drill sites, also fell to 131 cars from 11.5K a year ago and 8,627 cars during Q4.
- Tank car orders had surged with shale oil output, generally transported to refineries by rail, but output from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale field dropped in both January and February, and the U.S. Energy Department predicts continued declines in output there for April and May.
- Relevant tickers: TRN, ARII, GBX, WAB, CSX, NSC, UNP, CNI, CP, KSU, BRK.A, BRK.B
Apr. 24, 2015, 4:44 PM
- Canada issues an emergency directive aimed at slowing crude oil trains traveling through urban areas to a maximum of 40 mph and requiring increased inspections and risk assessments along key routes used for transporting dangerous goods.
- The directive is the latest in a series of steps by the Canadian government to boost rail safety in the wake of derailments as crude-by-rail shipments rise.
- Canada’s two biggest railroad operators - Canadian National (NYSE:CNI) and Canadian Pacific (NYSE:CP) - already have restricted train speeds to 35 mph in urban locations; in the U.S., rail operator BNSF (BRK.A, BRK.B) said last month it had begun slowing crude-carrying trains to 35 mph in cities with more than 100K residents.
Apr. 20, 2015, 3:13 PM
- The Bank of England months ago penned a letter to the U.S. Treasury asking why The Oracle's reinsurance operation has been left off of Financial Stability Board's provisional list of too big too fail institutions.
- MetLife (NYSE:MET) - which has sued the U.S. government over its curious designation as a SIFI - would also probably like to know, as would a number of other primary insurers that have been so tagged.
- Berkshire (BRK.A, BRK.B) is part of a group of reinsurers - Swiss Re (OTCPK:SSREY) and Munich Re also come to mind - which have thus far escaped such scrutiny, even though primary insurers might argue the reinsurers are more important to the global financial system. The Basel-based FSB was supposed to make a reinsurance list public last year, but postponed the effort in November "pending further development of the methodology."
- Insurance is Berkshire's most significant business - accounting for 27% of net earnings last year - and providing Warren Buffett with the capital to invest in stocks and acquisitions.
- Source: FT
Apr. 17, 2015, 4:47 PM
- Trains carrying crude oil will be restricted to a 40 MPH speed limit in populated areas such as New York, one of the steps required by an order from the U.S. Department of Transportation in response to a series of derailments.
- The emergency order makes the agreement mandatory for all railroads hauling 20 or more tank cars linked together or 35 cars in total that are filled with oil or other flammable liquids, and applies to both older model DOT-111 tank cars and CPC-1232s the industry has been voluntarily building since 2011.
- The DoT also issued an advisory to railroads to use the latest technology to check for flaws in train wheels that can cause a crash; a broken train wheel is suspected of causing the March 5 derailment near Galena, Ill., of a BNSF Railway (BRK.A, BRK.B) train hauling 103 cars of Bakken crude.
- Other relevant tickers: CSX, UNP, NSC, KSU, GWR, CNI, CP
Apr. 13, 2015, 10:02 PM
- The scorecard since the Bank One/JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) merger in 2004 - with Jamie Dimon taking the helm of the merged company - is a remarkable one, writes The Brooklyn Investor.
- Dimon has grown tangible book value per share at a rate of 14.1% annually. As comparison (though it isn't a perfect one), BVPS at Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) and Markel (NYSE:MKL) - hall of fame compounders - has grown by 10.1% and 12.5% respectively per year over the same time frame. Keep in mind that JPMorgan turned in this record during the period that includes the financial crisis.
- As for stock performance, someone owning Bank One when Dimon became CEO in 2000 and holding through the merger would have had a total return of 10.4% annually since - 170 basis points per year better than Berkshire Hathaway. The S&P Financials Index over that time has returned just 2.2% per year, and the S&P 500 only 4%.
- As for Dimon's defense against those arguing for a break-up of JPMorgan, BI's buying it, excerpting the CEO: "Our long-term view means that we do not manage to temporary P/E rations - the tail should not wag the dog."
- And finally, BI notes Jamie Dimon comes pretty cheap - the average percentage of profits paid to the JPMorgan CEO over the three years ended in 2013 was 0.09%, the lowest among the Too Big To Fail U.S. banks.
Apr. 7, 2015, 7:27 AM
- Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) agrees to buy 20M shares of Axalta (NYSE:AXTA) from The Carlyle Group for $560M, or $28 per share, and agrees not to sell anything for 90 days following the deal, after which Axalta will provide Berkshire with certain registration rights.
- Based in Philadelphia, Axalta offers coating and painting systems, and has a market cap of about $6.4B.
- Shares are higher by 4.1% premarket to $29.50.
Apr. 6, 2015, 6:51 PM
- The exploding growth in oil train shipments fueled by the U.S. energy boom has sputtered in recent months, hurt by safety problems and low crude oil prices, WSJ reports.
- Railroads have been a major beneficiary of the U.S. energy boom, as some oil companies turned to trains to move crude to refineries from North Dakota and other areas underserved by pipelines, but WSJ says ~1.38M bbl/day of oil and fuels such as gasoline rode the rails in March vs. an average of 1.5M bbl/day in the same period a year ago.
- BNSF Railway (BRK.A, BRK.B), which is responsible for ~70% of U.S. oil train traffic, operated as many as 10 trains a day last year but now is averaging nine a day.
- Shipping oil across the U.S. by train can cost $6-$12/bbl, which makes sense only when the price of U.S. crude is significantly cheaper than oil pumped overseas; in recent weeks, the price gap between U.S. and Brent has narrowed to ~$7/bb, making some oil train shipments too costly at this time, but Barclays thinks U.S. crude may sell for $13/bbl less than Brent, which would boost oil train shipments later this year.
- Other relevant tickers: CSX, UNP, NSC, KSU, GWR, CNI, CP
Apr. 6, 2015, 10:24 AM
- "Clayton Homes relies on predatory sales practices, exorbitant fees, and interest rates that can exceed 15%, trapping many buyers in loans they can't afford and in homes that are almost impossible to sell or refinance," according to The Center for Public Integrity in a report titled: "Warren Buffett's (BRK.A, BRK.B) mobile home empire preys on the poor."
- Since Buying Clayton in 2003 for $1.7B, Berkshire has moved consolidate the fragmented mobile-home lending industry, with Clayton at a 39% market share in 2013 vs. just 13% in 2005. The company had pre-tax income of $558M last year, according to the report, which details a number of hard-luck stories from Clayton customers.
Berkshire Hathaway Inc is a conglomerate holding company owning subsidiaries engaged in a number of business activities, including property and casualty insurance and reinsurance, utilities and energy, finance, manufacturing, service and retailing.
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