Why UBS Is Telling Clients to Buy Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway Now

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Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) may be the daily work destination of Warren Buffett, but despite his dominance on Wall Street, it turns out that Berkshire Hathaway itself has very few analysts who actually make “buy” or “sell” recommendations on his conglomerate. UBS has now decided to join those few analysts.

Monday’s top analyst upgrades and downgrades roundup was dominated by UBS initiating Berkshire Hathaway with a Buy rating. The firm also assigned a $244,500 price target on the A-shares.

Several drivers were seen in this call from UBS. The firm thinks that the uncertain economic conditions and the uncertain market environment will play into Buffett’s hands. UBS also noted that Berkshire Hathaway has the team to keep making acquisitions or to invest internally in its own operating units. Despite the current challenges, the company is believed to be able to grow its own earnings, and also to grow book value faster than the growth of S&P 500.

UBS also thinks that the current price-to-book is trading at a historical discount at this time and that the sub-1.2-times book value where Buffett will repurchase his own shares might create a floor for Berkshire Hathaway’s shares. The firm expects Berkshire Hathaway to benefit from multiple expansion.

UBS’s Brian Meredith said:

We believe that the current uncertain economic and market environment plays into the hands of Berkshire Hathaway, with its structural advantages of permanent capital, strong cash generation and industry-leading portfolio of businesses.

Meredith also sees Berkshire Hathaway as able to outperform peers, whether or not Buffett is still CEO in the years to come. He said:

While Buffett’s superior capital allocation skills and market clout would be missed, as long as the culture does not change, we would expect the company to continue to outperform.

Again, it is very rare to see many analyst reports on Berkshire Hathaway. Two reports were seen in March, one each from S&P and Morningstar.

S&P Capital IQ recently maintained its Buy rating, but that was on the B-shares with a $152.00 price target, implying about 8.5% upside from the $140.11 close last week. S&P’s “risk assessment” was valued as Medium, with the firm saying:

The low risk represented by the company’s diversified revenue and earnings base is partly offset by the corporate governance weaknesses — we believe — that are embedded in Berkshire as a result of the company’s decentralized management style, in our view. Also, we view chairman and CEO Warren Buffett’s advanced age as a risk factor.

Morningstar Equity Research also recently lowered its fair value estimate for the A-shares to $255,000 from $265,000 (and the B-shares to $170 from $177). Morningstar’s sum of the parts analysis said:

Our new fair value estimate is equivalent to 1.7 times Berkshire’s reported book value per Class A (Class B) share of $151,083 ($101) at the end of the third quarter of 2015. Based on our estimates for book value per share at the end of 2015 and 2016, our new fair value estimate is equivalent to 1.6 and 1.5 times book, respectively.

We use a sum-of-the-parts methodology to value Berkshire. We believe the company’s insurance operations are worth $82,200 ($55) per Class A (Class B) share, down 1% from our previous valuation, with improved expectations for underwriting results being offset by weaker near-term investment portfolio performance. We value Berkshire’s investments in Kraft Heinz and Precision Castparts separately from the company’s insurance operations, believing that they are worth $14,600 ($10) and $18,600 ($12) per Class A (Class B) share, respectively. Our fair value estimate for Precision Castparts declined around 10% since our last update because of ongoing weakness in the oil and gas market, as well as lowered expectations for their aerospace business.

The $244,500 price target from UBS is roughly a 16% premium over Thursday’s closing price of 210,530. Berkshire Hathaway’s 52-week trading range is $186,900 to $223,011.

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