Buffett quizzed on Berkshire buybacks, succession

-- | 06/05/2019

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Joshua Aguilar: For Morningstar I'm Joshua Aguilar. With me is Gregg Warren, our analyst for Berkshire. 

So Gregg, what'd you think about the meeting? Do you have any key take aways for us?

Gregg Warren: I thought the meeting last year was a lot more informative. It seemed like they touched on a lot more subjects, but overall I thought it went well. I think probably the first key take away was a lot of interest in share repurchases, sort of where they're willing to buy back the stock. 

Then one of the other things happened here at the end of the meeting when they sort of talked about the fact that they'd be willing to put $50 billion into a preferred stock if they could. Then the question I had on the longer-term ability for the next managers to be able to hold on to a ton of cash or have to migrate the firm over to a returning capital shareholder's vehicle--it kind of surprised me, because Warren sort of hinted at that might actually happen on his watch. So overall, some interesting take aways but not enough there to really move the needle.

Aguilar: Do you think we learned anything on terms of succession? I mean we actually saw from both Ajit and Greg today, clearly they seem like the likely successors, at least one of the two, as you pointed out. You think we learned anything on that front?

Warren: Not a whole lot. I mean Greg is still sort of my front runner for the role. I think Warren wants a younger person in there that can run the business for 20, 30 years. Greg sort of fits that criteria. He did highlight both of them, have them both out there talking to shareholders, addressing questions, which is good. It's good for shareholders to hear from them. 

I think the other more interesting thing on succession is I don't think we're going to know until Warren's gone. I think they're still holding that card close to their vest.

Aguilar: You mentioned about the migrating investment vehicle. It's really been hard for them to beat returns. Your price to fair value, and I guess it's a 4-star stock right now. Why should anybody hold the stock in the future you think?

Warren: I still think there's some good reasons to step into it. Right now it's in our best ideas list, and I think one of the main reasons is you've got the potential for a large amount of share repurchase. Eventually a dividend's going to come down. Buffett's gonna find some ways to put this capital to work. There's the potential if they change the holding requirements for banks, they can ramp up their holdings in that as well. So, the cash problem may not be as evident two, three years from now, relative to what we've seen historically. I think that that's one big indicator.

There are things - businesses themselves are operating very well. They're all firing all cylinders, and from a competitive advantage perspective, a lot of them operating under the Berkshire umbrella are far more competitivly advantaged than if they were public.

Aguilar: Great, those are really great insights. Thank you so much. For Morningstar, I'm Josh Aguilar.

This report appeared on www.morningstar.com.au 2019 Morningstar Australasia Pty Limited

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