Berkshire Hathaway Valuation

“It’s better to be approximately right, than precisely wrong.” – Warren Buffett

Following from my last post, where I placed Berkshire Hathaway on the ‘Yes’ tray, I read the latest quarterly report to value the company according to its latest figures. Coming in at 51 pages, it was definitely a faster read than the annual report, but lacking Warren’s personal touch.

Latest quarterly report

The first thing I noticed was that cash on hand increased from $86 billion to $96.5 billion, a 12.21% increase in just three months! This was mainly due to a retroactive reinsurance agreement with AIG in which National Indemnity Company received cash consideration of $10.2 billion. Book value increased from $286,359 million to $296,280 million. Since there are 1,644,559 equivalent A shares, book value per share is now $180,158 ($120.11 per B share), up 4.69% from $172,108 at yearend 2016. Since the company’s stock repurchase program is actioned at 120% of book value, the new floor for the A share is $180,158 x 120% = $216,190 and $216,190 / 1,500 = $144.13 for the B shares, up from $137.69 at yearend 2016.

Revenue increased from $52,163 million to $65,187 million quarter on quarter, a 25% increase. On the negative side, net earnings decreased almost 30% quarter on quarter, from $5,589 million at first quarter 2016 to $4,060 million at first quarter 2017, mainly due to higher insurance losses and loss adjustment expenses. Comprehensive income, however, increased from $3,061 million to $9,832 million quarter on quarter, mainly due to unrealised appreciation of investments.

Investments in equity securities increased from $122,032 million at yearend 2016 to $135,020 million, other investments (preferred stocks and common stock warrants) totalled $18,412 million, and investments in The Kraft Heinz Company had a market value of $29,553 million, a total of $182,985 million.

Insurance float increased from $91 billion at yearend 2016 to $105 billion at March 31. Total cash and investments held in the insurance businesses came to $226,268 million.

Back-of-the-envelope valuation

In Berkshire Hathaway’s 2012 Annual Report, Buffett said that the company’s intrinsic value could not be precisely calculated, but that we could measure two of three pillars to estimate this value. The three pillars are:

  1. Value of investments (stocks, bonds and cash equivalents);
  2. Operating earnings (excluding investments and insurance);
  3. Effective future deployment of retained earnings.

At March 31, Berkshire held cash, cash equivalents and US Treasury Bills of $96,464 million; investments (equity, preferred stock, warrants and bonds) of $175,117 million; plus an investment in Kraft Heinz with a market value of $29,553 million. Therefore, the total value of this first pillar is $301,134 million. Some of these investments are funded by float, but if the insurance companies manage to at least break even on their underwriting (they’ve been significantly profitable for decades), Warren says that these investments ‘can be viewed as an element of value for Berkshire shareholders’.

Net earnings from operations excluding insurance and investments totalled $12,571 million in 2016. For the past 10 years, a period that includes the financial crisis, Berkshire’s net earnings from operations grew 13% per year. Peter Lynch, one of the greatest fund managers of all time, and author of ‘One Up On Wall Street’ and ‘Beating the Street’, had a rule of thumb to determine a company’s fair value: the PE ratio should match the growth rate. For a company growing earnings at 13% per year, the fair value PE is 13. This way, the PE to Growth (PEG) ratio is equal to 1. If a share is selling for a PEG greater than 1, the share is considered expensive. And if the PEG is less than 1, the share is considered cheap.

Net earnings

However, if we look at the last 5 years, growth was closer to 12%, implying a fair PE of 12, in which case the total value for this second pillar is $12,571 million x 12 = $150,852 million.

The third pillar is subjective and hard to quantify. If a CEO is expected to reinvest retained earnings well, this will ‘add to the company’s current value; if the CEO’s talents and motives are suspect, today’s value must be discounted’. I think it’s safe to say that Warren adds a great deal of value here and that the value of Berkshire is greater than the sum of the first two pillars, but we don’t know how long he will remain with us, and the future performance of his replacements is uncertain (although I believe that they should perform well, otherwise Warren wouldn’t have hired them).

Taking into account only the first two pillars, the fair value of Berkshire is $451,986 million. This translates to a value of $274,837 per A share, or $183.22 per B share, which gives me a price to book value ratio of 1.53. And these values are very conservative since they don’t even take into account potential growth in cash and investments, and assign no value to the manager’s ability to reinvest earnings. Then again, the value of the investments is volatile, since they can easily decrease 20% or 30% if another recession or market crash comes along. Let’s call it even.

To invest or not to invest?

Benjamin Graham recommended buying a company at two-thirds (66,67%) of estimated intrinsic value, since the potential profit would be 50% on your cash once the company’s market price reached fair value. Warren Buffett is known to favor a 50% margin of safety (or more), which implies a return of 100% once the company reaches fair value.

Berkshire’s A shares are currently selling for $254,965 for a market capitalisation of $419,305 million, a discount of just 7.23% to my fair value estimate of $451,986 million. The B shares are selling for $170, compared to my fair value estimate of $183.22. The company is only slightly undervalued, and 7.23% is not a big enough margin of safety to make me want to buy it at this price.

Warren Buffett is willing to buy Berkshire shares at a price to book value (PBV) ratio of 1.2, implying a purchase price of $144.13 for a B share. This is a 21.34% discount to my estimate of $183.22, implying a possible return of about 27%.

Because it is Berkshire Hathaway, a huge company with a strong balance sheet and reasonable growth prospects, that has a zero chance of going bankrupt, I would be willing to accept a 20% margin of safety ($183.22 x 80% = $146.58). If I happen to have money available and no better ideas (for companies growing faster and/or with a huge margin of safety), this would be a very decent place to park it.

Final verdict: I am a buyer of B shares at $146.50.

One thought on “Berkshire Hathaway Valuation

  1. Pingback: First share screener – Investing: Move by Move

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