Why JPMorgan Adding Warren Buffett Investment Manager to Board Matters So Much

Print Email

If there is one thing a company can do to signal just how solid an underlying business is, one of the top “best” things would be to get a deal from Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) and Warren Buffett. When most investors think of Buffett and a bank stock, they think of Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC). Everyone seems to overlook the past ties between Buffett and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM). Now those ties just became even deeper.

JPMorgan has now named Todd A. Combs to its board of directors. Combs, who is just 45, is one of Buffett’s two new investment managers. Note that Buffett has asked his investment managers to take board seats in companies they invest in. Interestingly enough, JPMorgan has not been listed among the recent stock holdings of Berkshire Hathaway.

The effective date of the Combs addition to the board is September 19, 2016. His appointment to a board committee will be announced when determined, but Combs was named a director of the company’s JPMorgan Chase Bank and Chase Bank USA subsidiaries.

In the past, Buffett admitted that he personally owns shares of JPMorgan.  Buffett also has been on record numerous times, even after the London Whale scandal, calling Jamie Dimon one of the best CEOs in America.

The recent Wells Fargo scandal may have been an overhang for the company itself. What investors need to consider is that Berkshire Hathaway owned some 479.7 million shares as of the end of June. That is a 9.45% stake, without taking into consideration the effort of Wells Fargo to buy back its shares to shrink its float and help grow its earnings per share. Buffett has even applied for permission to own more than 10% of Wells Fargo with regulators, for a passive stake.

Combs joined Berkshire Hathaway in 2010, having previously been a founder of Castle Point Capital in 2005. Combs has managed capital for endowments, family foundations and institutions.

What matters here is that this will give Warren Buffett and his team just that much more insight into the world’s top banking activities. This move will also signal a potentiality that Berkshire Hathaway could become a sizable shareholder in JPMorgan ahead.

The Wells Fargo stake owned by Berkshire Hathaway, assuming the stake was not raised, would be $22.4 billion today, and it has taken more than a decade to build up that stake. If Berkshire Hathaway wanted to own 1% or 2% of JPMorgan, it would cost just $2.4 billion to $4.8 billion to accomplish. That is chump change for Berkshire Hathaway.

JPMorgan’s Dimon said of Combs:

Todd Combs is an extraordinary leader, investor and thinker, with a deep understanding of finance and business. We’re pleased he has agreed to serve on our Board of Directors, and our company and our Board will benefit from his wisdom and judgment.

Combs said of being elected to the board:

I deeply appreciate this opportunity with JPMorgan Chase and look forward to working closely with my new colleagues on the Board of Directors. I’m pleased to join a team committed to serving the interests of customers, clients and shareholders.

Buffett just gave a big thumbs up to Dimon. Yet, this should not signal the beginning of the end in Buffett’s Wells Fargo interest. Again, Buffett has asked to be able to take his stake above the 10% regulatory threshold. This is just a forecast that perhaps Buffett and Combs are going to become more financially tied to JPMorgan than they have ever formally revealed in the past.

Combs already has proven himself before and after joining Berkshire Hathaway. If he is taking a seat on an outside board of directors, it probably isn’t just to learn about the world of deposits, loans and credit cards.