How Brexit Just Cost Billions in Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway Values


Warren Buffett is deemed by many investors and market watchers to be the greatest investor of the modern era. Some may not agree at all, but Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) is not by accident one of the largest companies in America. Investors should know that even the great Oracle of Omaha did not likely escape the Brexit market meltdown.

Before you panic, remember Warren Buffett’s old saying – Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. A recent report from Keefe Bruyette & Woods was looking at the damage that might have been caused to the book value inside of Berkshire Hathaway. 24/7 Wall St. wanted to look in a different direction than KBW to see what is happening inside the Brexit losses for Berkshire Hathaway because this week will mark the end of the June quarter.

KBW’s view is that Berkshire Hathaway may have seen a negative impact of almost $800 million to the book value beyond the value of Buffett’s equity holdings. While these are best-effort estimates, the reality is that there have been real value erosion taking place and we can tally up market value losses well into the billions of dollars – maybe tens of billions!

24/7 Wall St. can tally up losses of more than $25 billion that would be in effect if Buffett were forced into an instant mark-to-market or similar exercise. Berkshire Hathaway’s A-shares lost 4.1% last Friday after the Brexit and they were down more than 1% on Monday. If you tally up the cumulative impact, it was a loss of 5.5%. With the market cap of $340 billion, that translates into nearly $20 billion in lost market cap for Berkshire Hathaway in just two days.

One reality is that you will never know how to calculate the value of any derivatives inside the Berkshire Hathaway empire. There may be too many count and we have found that it is best to just value these as zero in net gains or losses, admitting that a surprise in value adjustments may come in periods of volatility. What is easy to see is how this impacts the $128.5 billion worth of Buffett’s public stock holdings.

Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is Buffett’s top banking stock by far. It may have lower Brexit exposure than money center banking peers due to a US-dominant focus. Still, if three money center banks lose billions in value, Wells Fargo would be down in sympathy. Wells Fargo’s stake of 479.7 million shares in Wells Fargo was worth right at $23 billion last Thursday before the Brexit vote. A drop from $47.91 went to $45.71 on the Brexit news and was down more than 1% at $45.12 late on Monday. That new value would be roughly $21.6 billion, so call that a $1.4 billion loss in the value of the shares.

International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) counted as a stake of 81.232 million shares most recently. This value was $12.62 billion last Thursday when IBM was at $155.35, and a drop to $146.59 on Friday and another 2.2% drop to $143.30 late on Monday would by a loss of 7.8%. The new value of $11.64 billion — so Buffett’s implied market value loss in IBM would be right at $1 billion.

The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) is supposed to be defensive by nature, but Coca-Cola does business everywhere in the world. Buffett’s stake of 400 million shares would have been worth $18 billion as of last Thursday’s close of $45.08. A drop to $43.93 on Friday and a small drop to $43.85 late on Monday would be $17.54 billion – so round out a market value drop of almost $500 million, but understand that Buffett’s cost basis is close to zero now so he probably won’t fret here.

Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX) is a relatively new holding for Mr. Buffett but Berkshire Hathaway is now a 10% owner. After numerous reports of fresh open market purchases, Buffett’s stake was last tallied up at 78.78 million shares. That value of almost $6.4 billion last Thursday ($80.87 close) would be down to $6.06 billion as of late Monday’s price of $76.90. That is a loss of $300 million or more in perceived market value.

American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP) is a 151.6 million shares stake, and last Thursday’s closing price of $63.25 was worth close to $9.6 billion. American Express shares slid to $60.06 on Friday, and the stock was trading at $57.70 just a few minutes before Monday’s close. The new value of $8.75 billion would generate another market value erosion of about $850 million.

What else has to be considered here is the large convertible preferred stakes of Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) and Dow Chemical Co. (NYSE: DOW) would be lower on a mark to market basis now even if the stakes have no real net change to you and me. BofA shares lost 12% and 7% from Thursday to Monday alone, respectively.

Even the value of Kraft Heinz Co. (NYSE: KHC) dropped from $86.36 before the Brexit Vote to $83.73 on Friday and then was at $83.65 right before the close on Monday. Buffett has warned that his stake was going to be mandated to be smaller, but on the surface what was called a 325.6 million shares would have generated a market value erosion of almost $900 million.

When you add all these numbers up it starts to become real money, even for Warren Buffett. Then consider the recent large acquisitions made. Buffett’s BNSF acquisition in rails was over $26 billion and Precision Castparts for $32 billion in manufacturing would have definitely been valued lower if they were both still public stocks. Even if those losses would be only 3% combined in daily market values (a mere dartboard throw of a guess), that would be close to $1.75 billion more in losses.

Without getting into preferred shares and other investments that may be up or down (Buffett does own many bonds), it is easy to drum up market value erosion of about $7 billion before getting into the other half of Buffett’s holdings.

Buffett’s market value drop of close to $20 billion in Berkshire Hathaway’s total market cap would of course be taking that market value loss of almost $7 billion in the equities above. Still, if you start adding them all up it proves to be a massive sum of cash.

Buffett often buys stocks on weakness. He admits to having international exposure, but Buffett always talks up America. Maybe he ended up buying shares on Friday or Monday after they went on sale.

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