Berkshire Removes Cap on Share Buybacks, Stock Climbs
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.B) has granted its top employees more flexibility to spend cash on repurchasing shares.
In a press release, the Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate confirmed that previous restrictions have now been lifted, paving the way for CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger to authorize buybacks when both of them believe that the repurchase price is “below Berkshire’s intrinsic value.” Under the old policy, executives at the company were only permitted to buy back shares when the price for the stock did not exceed a 120% premium of the book value. The last time Berkshire announced a share buyback was in 2012. (See also: How Berkshire Should Prepare for Life After Buffett)
Berkshire added that future decisions about repurchasing stock will be made “conservatively.”
Investors, who had been putting the company under pressure to deploy its $108 billion-plus of cash and equivalents, responded to the announcement by sending Berkshire’s Class B shares up 1.89% in pre-market trading.
Speaking to Reuters, Steven Check, president of Check Capital Management Inc., described the new policy as “somewhat significant,” given Berkshire’s current circumstances. “This is a good thing in an environment where Berkshire has a lot of excess cash, nothing to buy, and an underpriced stock,” he said.
Meyer Shields, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc, told Bloomberg the move is “overdue.”“This is something that’s been talked about for years,” he said. “This ever-growing cash pile is now overwhelming.”
Buffett’s firm is currently sitting on a lot of cash as it struggles to find investment opportunities that meet its value stock-picking criteria. In February, Buffett sent a letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, revealing that he has been having difficulties finding bargains as market prices continue to increase.
Buffett also hinted at the time that Berkshire would prefer to put its excess cash to use by repurchasing stock, rather than paying dividends, because dividends are difficult to cut.
Buffett recently endorsed Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) decision to increase its own buybacks, claiming that the move could boost the stock’s value. However, the Oracle of Omaha’s colleague Munger has been less flattering of share repurchase programs in the past, warning that some companies buy back their own shares just to prop up their stock prices. (See also: Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Buys 75 Million More Apple Shares.)
In the press release, Berkshire said it will not repurchase any stock until it releases second-quarter results, due Aug. 3. The company also added that it will not allow buybacks to reduce its cash and equivalents below $20 billion. (See also: Berkshire Hathaway to Net $1.7B in Dividends After Bank Stress Tests: Report.)
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