Last September, we announced that Berkshire would repurchase its shares at a price of up to 110% of book value. We were in the market for only a few days – buying $67 million of stock – before the price advanced beyond our limit. Nonetheless, the general importance of share repurchases suggests I should focus for a bit on the subject.
Charlie and I favor repurchases when two conditions are met:
- first, a company has ample funds to take care of the operational and liquidity needs of its business;
- second, its stock is selling at a material discount to the company’s intrinsic business value, conservatively calculated.
We have witnessed many bouts of repurchasing that failed our second test. Sometimes, of course, infractions – even serious ones – are innocent; many CEOs never stop believing their stock is cheap. In other instances, a less benign conclusion seems warranted.
- It doesn’t suffice to say that repurchases are being made to offset the dilution from stock issuances or simply because a company has excess cash.
- Continuing shareholders are hurt unless shares are purchased below intrinsic value.
Charlie and I have mixed emotions when Berkshire shares sell well below intrinsic value. We like making money for continuing shareholders, and there is no surer way to do that than by buying an asset – our
own stock – that we know to be worth at least x for less than that – for .9x, .8x or even lower. (As one of our directors says, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, after the barrel has been drained and the fish have quit flopping.)
Nevertheless, we don’t enjoy cashing out partners at a discount, even though our doing so may give the selling shareholders a slightly higher price than they would receive if our bid was absent.
- When we are buying, therefore, we want those exiting partners to be fully informed about the value of the assets they are selling.
- At our limit price of 110% of book value, repurchases clearly increase Berkshire’s per-share intrinsic value.
- And the more and the cheaper we buy, the greater the gain for continuing shareholders.
You should know, however, that
- we have no interest in supporting the stock and that our bids will fade in particularly weak markets.
- Nor will we buy shares if our cash-equivalent holdings are below $20 billion. At Berkshire, financial strength that is unquestionable takes precedence over all else.