Berkshire Hathaway: Added Value for US Equity Exposure

Berkshire Hathaway: Added Value for US Equity Exposure

Led by the legendary investor Warren Buffett,

Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) Inc., is a holding company that owns subsidiaries engaging in diverse business activities across various industries. For clients looking for added value to their US Large Cap core holding, we suggest substituting part of this exposure with Berkshire Hathaway stock.  The BigSur model portfolio for a moderate client has 15% in US Large Cap stocks.  BRK stock provides an excellent complement or a partial substitute to the S&P 500 because of 2 main reasons: (1) Better portfolio positioning from BRK to play the US economic recovery (financials, housing and railroads); (2) Offers a transparent, liquid and “low cost” access to the world’s leading investor’s portfolio of private companies.


As reported in this year’s Annual Shareholder Letter, the historic performance of Berkshire Hathaway vs. the S&P 500 has been tremendous.

Diversified vehicle with different exposures than SPY

Berkshire Hathaway owns 56 subsidiaries in different businesses including rail transportation; utilities and energy; finance; manufacturing; service; retail and homebuilding businesses. The main four segments of the business are described as follows:

How much exposure does Berkshire Hathaway have to each of these segments?  The exposure to the insurance business accounts for over 50% of it’s value.  Investors holding SPY (S&P 500 ETF) have only 4.3% exposure to the Insurance sector.  Additionally, railroads (BNSF) account for 17% of fair value estimate for Berkshire Hathaway; SPY only offers its investors 1.7% to the transportation sector. Despite the fact that the majority of fair value is concentrated in the insurance segment of the business, the contribution to earnings of Berkshire Hathaway is split more evenly; almost evenly three ways between Insurance (34%); Manufacturing, Service & Retailing (31%) and Railroads, Utilities & Energy(31%).   The remaining 4% of earnings is derived from the Finance & Financial Products segment.

Well positioned for themes in next few years

Berkshire Hathaway has different positioning than the S&P 500 and there are a few themes the company will be able to take advantage of over the next few years- including a recovering housing market in the US; stabilizing economy and stronger finance sector.

Housing Recovery

As the US housing market continues to recover, the housing related businesses of BRK, which have faced years of significant headwinds, are likely to generate increased improved results for Berkshire.  The greatest exposure of BRK is Clayton Homes – the largest company in the manufactured housing industry, which has its own financing business.  After several years of shrinking revenues, in 4Q11, revenue growth turned positive and has remained positive since.  BRK has four other housing-related companies also positioned to benefit given a stronger housing market and increased construction in the US, including:  (1) Acme Brick – manufactures clay bricks, concrete block & cut limestone; acquired Benjamin Moore which manufactures and sells house paint in North America; (2) Shaw Industries – the world’s largest carpet manufacturer; (3) Johns Manville– manufactures insulation and roofing materials and (4) MiTek – leading supplier of products and equipment for building components.


Consumer Businesses

Consumer spending drives most of the growth for businesses in BRK’s Manufacturing, Services and Retail segment.  These companies have shown strong growth in 2012, and it is expected that they will continue to report healthy earnings growth as the US economy steadily improves.  With improving employment data and consumer confidence, demand from consumers should increase, benefitting many of BRK’s companies in this segment.  The companies which are most sensitive to consumer spending include: (1) Jewelry retailers: Helzberg Diamonds, Borsheims, Ben Bridge Jeweler; (2) Home furnishing retailers : Nebraska Furniture Mart, R.C. Willey Home Furnishings, Star Furniture, and Jordan’s Furniture; and (3) Luxury services/goods: NetJets (private jet rental), The Pampered Chef (high quality kitchen tools).


Financials Sector

While there is little exposure to financial companies in BRK’s private company portfolio; the publicly traded equity portfolio has a significantly large exposure to the financial sector including very important positions in Wells Fargo, American Express, and US Bank.  The overall exposure to the financial sector in BRK’s publicly traded equity portfolio (34.7%) is more than double that of the S&P 500 (16.4% in SPY).  Financials are still well below their peak in 2008, and are positioned to do well with a continuing housing recovery and stable economy.

Access to a private equity portfolio

Much of the easily available and frequently headlined information on BRK is related its publicly traded equity portfolio.  The private equity portfolio, however, is the core of the business- it is estimated that in 2013, 70% of BRK’s earnings will come from this private portfolio, and only 30% from the publicly traded equity portfolio.    BRK has over 56 operating companies, ranging from insurance giant GEICO to underwear manufacturer Fruit of the Loom.  While these companies are very different businesses, they share the same attractive characteristics which passed through Warren Buffet ’s investment process: “value” companies with long-term potential and “simple” businesses.  In another Thinking Man’s Approach Note (#4, on the topic of the Berkshire Hathaway/3G acquisition of Heinz) , we discuss the benefits of becoming a Berkshire Hathaway company- guidance by seasoned managers/investors who have successfully and nimbly created efficient and highly profitable companies.  Once a company comes under the BRK umbrella they are given tools to bring their businesses to the next level.  Below we discuss four very different companies which illustrate some of the attributes of Berkshire Hathaway companies.  While some (such as See’s Candies or Brooks) may not be the most important companies to revenue, we like to see that even the smaller companies in the portfolio are “golden nuggets.”


Succession of leadership has been a chief concern of many investors; Warren Buffet (82) and Charlie Munger (89), the primary decision makers, won’t live forever.  In recent years, however, they have increasingly involved more team members in managing the portfolio in an effort to groom successors.  With a large part of BRK in the insurance business, a super catastrophe (ie large natural disaster) could significantly hurt the company’s revenues.  Over the past few years, however, BRK’s non-insurance segments have gained more importance; and in 2012 generated about two-thirds of earnings.    Market and economic downturns are risks factors most companies have to deal with, and BRK is no different- however, they are in a unique position to capitalize in that type of environment.  In the wake of the 2008 crisis, three companies (Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and GE) offered BRK incredibly attractive investment opportunities.  Why?  They believed if investors saw Warren Buffet buying exposure to their companies, it would be seen as a stamp of approval and give their brands a vote of confidence at a time of uncertainty.  Buffett negotiated extremely favorable terms in each of these situations, and BRK has profited handsomely.


While BRK has outperformed the S&P500 by more than double since 1980, our recommendation to substitute 10% of investors  S&P500 exposure with BRK, is based on the better positioning of BRK to take advantage of the US economic recovery, especially in financials, housing and railroads.  In addition, we think the private equity portfolio of BRK is  a catalyst of value for shareholders.

Important Disclosures

This material is distributed for informational purposes only. The discussions and opinions in this article are for general information only, and are not intended to provide investment advice. While taken from sources deemed to be accurate, BigSur Wealth Management, LLC (“BigSur” or the “Adviser”) makes no representations about the accuracy of the information in the article or its appropriateness for any given situation. Any statements regarding future events constitute only subjective views or beliefs, are not guarantees or projections of performance, should not be relied on, are subject to change due to a variety of factors, including fluctuating market conditions, and involve inherent risks and uncertainties, both general and specific, many of which cannot be predicted or quantified and are beyond our control. Future results could differ materially and no assurance is given that these statements are now or will prove to be accurate or complete in any way. This article may include forward-looking statements. All statements other than statements of historical fact are forward-looking statements (including words such as “believe,” “estimate,” “anticipate,” “may,” “will,” “should,” and “expect”). Although we believe that the expectations reflected in such forward-looking statements are reasonable, we can give no assurance that such expectations will prove to be correct. Various factors could cause actual results or performance to differ materially from those discussed in such forward-looking statements. BigSur shall not be responsible for the consequences of reliance upon any opinion or statements contained herein, and expressly disclaim any liability, including incidental or consequential damages, arising from any errors or omissions.

Please note this material includes BigSur’s “Strategic Asset Views”, which seeks to identify and reflect the Adviser’s views (opinion) regarding the potential portfolio withstanding of various asset classes. When developing its Strategic Asset Views, BigSur analyzes numerous other factors related to the markets in general and to the implementation of any specific assets class and trading strategy should only be determined via assessing these factors with each individual client’s overall characteristics. Therefore; BigSur provides its Strategic Asset Views for information purposes and for client considerations and prior to any client taking actions based upon these views such activity should be discussed with your individual BigSur advisor accordingly. The companies discussed herein, are for illustrative purposes only and do not represent past or current recommendations by BigSur. This article is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the particular needs of any specific investor. Views regarding the economy, securities markets or other specialized areas, like all predictors of future events, cannot be guaranteed to be accurate and may result in economic loss to the investor. Any securities or products referenced BigSur believes may present opportunities for appreciation over the subsequent time periods. BigSur closely monitors securities discussed and client portfolios and may make changes when warranted as a result of evolving market conditions. There can be no assurance that the securities and performance included or referenced in the article will remain the same and investment strategies, philosophies and allocation are subject to change without prior notice. Specific securities or companies identified and described may or may not be held in portfolios managed by the Adviser and do not represent all of the securities purchased, sold, or recommended for advisory clients. The reader should not assume that investments in the securities identified and discussed were or will be profitable. BigSur may change its views on these securities at any time. There is no guarantee that, should market conditions repeat, these securities will perform in the same way in the future. Any referenced securities and their respective returns reflect the reinvestment of income and dividends, but do not take into account trading costs, management fees, and any other applicable fees and expenses. Please refer to Part 2A of BigSur’s Form ADV for a complete description of fees and expenses. Actual client performance will vary based on a variety of factors, including account restrictions, guidelines, the timing of investments, and cash flows. Hypothetical performance results may have inherent limitations, some of which are described below. An investor’s actual return will be reduced by the advisory fees and any other expenses that may be incurred in the management of an investment advisory account.

The returns and references to the S&P 500 index are provided for informational purposes only. The S&P 500 Index is a market-capitalization weighted index containing the 500 most widely held companies chosen with respect to market size, liquidity, and industry. The index is calculated on a total return basis with dividends reinvested. In addition, the volatility and securities of the index may be materially different from an investor’s. The S&P 500 Index was selected and is referenced to allow for comparison of the performance of any referenced securities or overall market to that of a well-known and widely recognized index. Comparisons to indexes in this material have limitations because indexes have volatility and other material characteristics that may differ from the referenced strategy or security. Therefore, actual performance may differ substantially from the performance of any referenced index. Investors should be aware that the referenced benchmark funds may have a different composition, volatility, risk, investment philosophy, holding times, and/or other investment-related factors that may affect the benchmark funds’ ultimate performance results. Due to these differences, indexes should not be relied upon as an accurate measure of comparison and are for informational purposes only. Unless noted otherwise, all index returns are denominated in U.S. dollars.

Target exposures included in this article may differ between clients based upon their investment objectives, financial situations and risk tolerances. Investments in general involve numerous risks, including, among others, market risk, default risk and liquidity risk. No security or financial instrument is suitable for all investors. Securities and other financial instruments discussed in this article, are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”). The income and market values of the securities stated on this article may fluctuate and, in some cases, investors may lose their entire principal investment. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

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BigSur Wealth Management, LLC
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