How Berkshire Hathaway Escaped Warren Buffett Stock Picks This Week

Warren Buffett
Source: White House Photo by Pete Souza
Investors still love to watch every single move of Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A). It turns out that being the wealthiest individual and being considered the greatest investor of the modern era comes with some mandated attention. Still, this week was a crummy week for some of Warren Buffett’s top stock picks. So how is that the shares of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-B) actually outperformed the broader market?

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-B) was $133.81 last Friday, but it closed at $137.78 for a rise of 2.96% for the week. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) was $200,469 last Friday, but it closed at $206,584 for a rise of 3.05%. On a broader market basis, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 2.5% to 17,646.70 and the S&P 500 Index rose 2.1% to 2,075.15.

International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) posted truly awful earnings. Warren Buffett might keep adding to this stake, but its monumental drop means that his value in IBM keeps dropping. The stock was valued at $150.39 last Friday and closed down at $140.64 ( a loss of almost $9 per share) after the poor earnings and guidance were released. A strong stock market let IBM shares recover to $144.68 by Friday’s close, but IBM has only the market rally to thank there when you see how many analysts downgraded or lowered targets on IBM.

American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP) also had an atrocious earnings reaction because there are flaws to overcome here. Shares fell to $72.50 after earnings, from a prior close of $76.51 and from $77.21 the prior week. Shares recovered over $2.00 on Friday—but, like IBM, this is solely because of the market strength rather than due to any sudden interest in American Express.

The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) also posted earnings damaged by a strong dollar this week. Shares were up initially on Thursday to close at $43.24, but Friday’s close was down 1% at $42.79—less than 2% higher on the week. Call that a wash and a boost for Buffett, but all in all the move was less than impressive considering the broader market strength.

Now keep in mind that Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway acquired railroad giant BNSF. The decline in rail traffic is from goods in general, but BNSF has also been seeing lower carloads of oil as the Bakken production and production elsewhere have been in decline or unprofitable.

Fortunately for Buffett, his big bank bets rose this week. Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) rallied 2.5% to $16.52, with a 52-week range of $14.60 to $18.48. Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) rallied 3.5% this last week to $54.75 versus a 52-week range of $47.75 to $58.77. On a combined basis these are offsetting the losses of IBM and AmEx.

What you are really seeing here is that the conglomerate structure helps out. Many aspects of conglomerates, even public equity shares, get helped out by other aspects of a business throughout the business cycle. That is why companies like GE, 3M, and United Tech have successfully fended off the urge to completely break up just to unlock value at a particular time.

Another issue here is that Berkshire Hathaway’s public stocks’ combined value, outside of pending acquisitions, is close to $100 billion. The total combined market value for Berkshire Hathaway is $340 billion, so the stock holdings account for about one-third of the value on a normalized basis.

One other issue worth pointing out is that Berkshire Hathaway’s A shares are still roughly 10% down from their 52-week high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down less than 4% and the S&P 500 is down less than 3% from their respective all-time highs.

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