Is Warren Buffett's and Berkshire Hathaway's Big Stock Buyback Really All That Big?

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) (NYSE: BRK-B) reported earnings over the weekend, and Wall Street was cheering on Warren Buffett’s conglomerate despite insurance exposure to storms during the third quarter. One driving force may be the buyback that was included now that Buffett and Charlie Munger loosened up their criteria for being able to buy back stock.

The big question about any buyback is whether it was big enough to matter. In the case of Berkshire Hathaway, it may be more symbolic than anything, and it may signal that Buffett just isn’t yet willing to endorse another “whale of a deal” in making a large acquisition.

Berkshire’s earnings came to $11,280 per A share, up from $2,473 per share a year earlier. Revenue rose to $63.45 billion from $59.51 billion a year earlier. There are not enough analysts issuing Buy/Sell ratings and earnings and revenue estimates to create a consensus analyst target.

On top of the $201.2 billion listed in equity investments, Berkshire Hathaway’s consolidated balance sheet for “Insurance & Other” included $36.5 billion in cash and cash equivalents and over $59.9 billion in short-term investments.

Berkshire Hathaway’s prior common stock repurchase program allowed the company to repurchase its A or B shares at prices when the stock was at or under a 20% premium over the book value of the shares. As covered mentioned, Buffett and Munger amended and loosened that on July 17, 2018, to allow for it to repurchase shares any time that Buffett and Munger believe that the repurchase price is below Berkshire’s intrinsic value. At that time, the company noted that share repurchases would not occur if they would reduce the total value of Berkshire’s consolidated cash, cash equivalents and U.S. Treasury bills holdings below $20 billion. Berkshire’s SEC filing said: “In the third quarter of 2018, Berkshire paid $928 million to repurchase shares of Class A and B common stock under the program.”

Now we have to consider what this really means in the grand scheme of things. The sum of $928 million may be impressive for many companies, but Berkshire Hathaway’s market cap is now over $535 billion. That represents a mere 0.17% of the outstanding shares based on the current market cap.

Berkshire Hathaway did show the actual prices paid. From August 7 to August 24, the conglomerate repurchased 225 A shares at an average price of $312,806.74. It also repurchased 4,139,192 B shares at an average price of $207.09 per share.

If you add up the cash, cash equivalents and short-term Treasury bills, which most analysts count as raw cash and liquidity, then the $928 million represented just over 0.9% of its raw cash and liquidity.

Berkshire Hathaway’s A shares traded up 5.5% at $325,500 on Monday morning, in a 52-week range of $270,250 to $335,900. Its B shares were last seen up 5.1% at $217.17, in a 52-week range of $180.44 to $224.07.