Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shorting Berkshire?

The short argument on Berkshire Hathaway (Greenbackd)
-I don't find this gentleman's argument persuading in the least.
First and foremost, Buffett has publicly said that returns are likely to be much less than were realized in the past. Make no mistake about that. Then again, he did say the same thing in 1969.
Secondly, hypocrisy is no stranger to Warren Buffett. His career has been filled with them. Jeff Matthews does an excellent job explaining them in detail in his book Pilgrimage to Warren Buffett's Omaha, e.g. railing on hedge fund managers despite the fact that he ran a hedge fund in the '50s/'60s and lambasting the estate tax while hawking Berkshire as an excellent vehicle for avoiding it!
He is right that there has been a huge spike in volume, but I doubt his conclusion that it is retail investors. Rather, I would say the significant driver of that change in volume is institutional buying of a large, new component of the S&P 500. The fact that Berkshire is so large also means that the capitalization-weighted S&P 500 index contains more of it so passive AND active fund managers are forced to buy more of it to rebalance to the index.
The main point that I feel he fails to raise (and I'm stealing from Jeff Mattews) is the fact that Buffett doesn't reinvest in his family of businesses as much as he could. Perhaps this is just a fact of life in living with the world's greatest investor. But if Nebraska Furniture Mart were allowed to grow on the wings of its own profits there is no doubt in my mind that it would be the dominant force in furniture retail.
I don't disagree with Mr. Rajagopal's conclusion, only his arguments. At its current valuation, Berkshire is probably overvalued, despite its continuous and deep stream of cash flows. Despite this view, I'm not selling yet because I was persuaded by Jeff Matthews to make my trek to Omaha to see the man, the Oracle, in person this May.

Full disclosure: Long BRK.B