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Is Berkshire more like a Mutual Fund than a stock?

edited November 2020 in Fund Discussions
Lots going on in Berkshire portfolio this year and lots of other topics:



  • Definitely. Perhaps even more like a CEF or ETF. c
  • Not like a CEF at all in my opinion, doesn't throw off any distributions to it's shareholders.

    Easily an ETF or mutual fund though.
  • edited November 2020
    Not like a fund or a stock but a hybrid between the two. Because it owns businesses in their entirety and controls their cash flows in their entirety as operating subsidiaries, one cannot analyze its share price relative to the value of its underlying holdings like a CEF. Some of those subsidiaries--Geico, Duracell, See's Candies-- it has owned for many years so there really is no public market value for them to give Berkshire an "NAV." Yet it also has a portfolio of publicly traded securities that you could see as like a mutual fund or CEF. Here is a list of Berkshire's various businesses and investments:
  • And a nice Expense Ratio.
  • Well, yes and no....If you were to calculate all of the employees salaries, at the arm of the division that picks publicly traded stocks you probably could come up with an expense ratio for that part.
  • +1 @bee. There is that.
  • True...wouldn't this be part of any publicly traded company?
  • edited November 2020
    Yes, except the costs are internalized at most publicly traded companies while most mutual funds technically are their own separate investment companies that ostensibly contracts out the fund's management at a disclosed cost--the expense ratio. So, technically, Fidelity for instance manages as a contracted adviser hundreds of separate companies--investment companies. At a normal company all of those management costs would be internalized and the managers would work for the company itself instead of an outside adviser. In other words, the managers of Fidelity funds' don't technically work for the funds but for Fidelity, the outside adviser. This can create some interesting conflicts of interest as what is beneficial for the funds isn't necessarily beneficial for the fund's outside adviser.
  • beebee
    edited November 2020
    Companies like Fidelity also have internal "stock shares" for their employee (exclusively) and their value is somewhat dependent on the success of the company's profitability. A very complicated dance that we hope end with a higher share price for the mutual fund and its mutual fund owners who may also be company employees.

    All things being equal, BRK.A or BRK.B don't charge an expense ratio and appear much like a concentrated mutual fund from my lens.
  • edited November 2020
    Owning a business and owning a stock are two very different things. If Geico has a very profitable year, because Berkshire owns the entire business, it can take Geico's cash flow or profit from that year and do what it wants with it. It can use that cash to start a new line of business, pay a dividend, pay off debt, give executives an exorbitant bonus, etc.. Now let's say Berkshire also owns Apple stock. Berkshire has no control over Apple's cash flows. What Apple does with its profits is up to the executives of Apple and Berkshire has to trust that CEO Tim Cook will do the right thing with those cash flows. Moreover, the stock of Apple may move very differently from the cash flows for Apple, so that Apple could have a very profitable year and its stock could be down because of broad market news or vice versa. But Geico has no stock price as a business Berkshire owns completely. It is all about the cash flow from the business alone. So the fact Berkshire owns Geico completely makes it very different from a regular mutual fund.
  • Some of those subsidiaries--Geico, Duracell, See's Candies--

    Just as Berkshire owns and controls entire businesses, so does See's in turn:
    See's Candies owns and operates all of our own retail shops. We do not sell franchises, but we do offer a Licensee Program that allows businesses who meet our selling profile to offer See's products in their stores.

    There's one exception to that. A See's retail shop opened three years ago in Greenwich Village in NY. Unlike all its other stores, this is a joint venture between Buffett and the NY owner.

    A bit of trivia on this trivia: I believe the corner that the store is near is the corner Joni Mitchell wrote about in her song "For Free". I caught an old video where Ms. Mitchell said it happened at 6th and 8th. There is no 6th St and 8th Ave intersection, so it must have been 8th St and 6th Ave.
  • beebee
    edited November 2020
    Not totally related, but interesting that T Rowe Price is both a Mutual fund company and an individual stock (TROW).

    Here's TROW (blue line) historical performance compared to PRWCX (red Line):

    I'm sure their are other examples.
  • @bee, can you repost the link above? Cannot read.
  • beebee
    edited November 2020
    image@Sven, I re-entered the link above...see if that works for you.
  • The other major difference with Berkshire is Warren invests the float from the insurance premiums, so he has already source of "free cash". Borrowing or leveraging with preferred shares is the only way an CEF or ETF could do this.

    The only downside is if he has to pay out the premiums for insurance losses. So far that has not been a problem, but a couple of big hurricanes in a row it could be
  • msf
    edited November 2020
    Could you explain that?
    Insurance companies are essentially financial institutions: They take in money and dole out money, just like a bank does. (Many insurance companies are even branches of large banking conglomerates.) Also, like a bank, they invest the money of its customers and policyholders in interest-earning investments. While the shared risk approach allows for large sums of cash on hand for claims payouts, investments are a long-term financial strategy, to make sure that the insurance company will have cash on hand for payouts years down the line.

    Also like banks, insurance companies are subject to reserve requirements.

    Financial institutions are not really much different from other kinds of companies, except that they make money on spread (the difference between their payout rate and their investment earnings rate) rather than on real products.

    That distinction means financial institutions are swimming in cash. However, it doesn't seem that shareholders, even majority shareholders, can access that cash directly. At best, ISTM that (subject to regulatory guards) Buffett might direct a subsidiary to invest some of its cash in loans to Berkshire Hathaway. But then Berkshire would be borrowing money in much the same way as CEFs (or any other business) borrows money.

    In short, premiums are paid to the insurance subsidiary, not to its owner, Berkshire Hathaway.
  • @bee, thank you very much.
  • I don't see any reason to own BRK.A
    SPY beat it easily for 1-3-5-10 years and with lower voltility.
  • @FD1000, Warren plans on doing just that with his wife's money.
    The 90/10 plan

    Buffett's plan is about as simple as it gets. In his 2013 letter to Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) shareholders, he wrote that the instructions in his will state that the trustee is to invest 90% in a low-cost S&P 500 index fund, with the remaining 10% to be invested in short-term government bonds.
  • Warren is smart because
    1) He finally invested in a growth, "over valued" for his style high tech company, Apple, after he said for years he woudn't and now it is his biggest holding.
    2) SPY/VOO is an easy, dirt cheap index
  • edited November 2020
    Warren has been selling his Apple stock lately and is Apple still a growth company?

    Apple revenue for the quarter ending September 30, 2020 was $64.698B, a 1.03% increase year-over-year.
    Apple revenue for the twelve months ending September 30, 2020 was $274.515B, a 5.51% increase year-over-year.
    Apple annual revenue for 2020 was $274.515B, a 5.51% increase from 2019.
    Apple annual revenue for 2019 was $260.174B, a 2.04% decline from 2018.
    Apple annual revenue for 2018 was $265.595B, a 15.86% increase from 2017.
  • 5G, 5G, 5G...

    Russia, Russia, Russia


  • Warren has been selling his Apple stock lately and is Apple still a growth company?

    It's a growth company. Apple is number one at VUG (growth index)

  • msf
    edited November 2020
    Reasoning by appeal to authority. The inference being that if a stock is in VUG it is a growth stock, whatever that means. As I explain below, the inference is flawed.

    Some index methodologies, CRSP among them, partition the equity universe - a stock is either a growth stock or a value stock, never a blend.
    CRSP Methodology Guide, Aug 2020

    The reality is that all stocks have both growth and value attributes in varying degrees. Rather than use a binary classification system (value/growth), M* offers a ternary (value/blend/growth) system. In this system, M* classifies both APPL and BRK.A as blend companies.

    Suppose that instead of partitioning stocks into exactly two (or three) non-intersecting categories, a methodology put stocks into both categories, weighted by how well they fit each. So a particular blend stock might wind up being weighted 46% in growth and 54% in value. This is what MSCI does with its value-weighted index.

    Because AAPL is the elephant in the room, even with a smaller value percentage weighting than, say JPM, it still winds up being "number one" in the MSCI USA value-weighted index. (Just in case one wants to appeal to authority.)

    MSCI USA Value-Weighted Index (Oct 30, 2020)
    MSCI Value Weighted Indexes Methodology

    That's not the end of the story. People think that indexes classify companies according to whether they are growth or value companies. Actually, indexes that are designed to be used by mutual funds classify companies according to whether they were growth or value companies.

    They build buffer zones, so that when a growth company evolves into a value company it isn't automatically moved from growth to value. There's a lag. This is to help fund avoid churning with companies that oscillate between growth and value. Which is okay, but it means that one can't rely on these indexes to say that a particular stock is now a growth company.
  • @msf.

    Actually, indexes that are designed to be used by mutual funds classify companies according to whether they were growth or value companies.

    Good stuff!
  • some of the best money managers in my book are those that have the insight to recognize a growth stock enduring a short term set back that has fallen into the top edge of the value spectrum. thereby reclassifying it as a value stock when in fact the return potential and sustainable dividend growth reflect that of a growth stock.
  • MSF, a lot of spinning but Apple is a growth company compared to SPY.
    Apple has lower yield, higher PE, higher growth.
    Sure, compare to QQQ it's a value.
    Apple looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck growth.
  • No spin - you chose to use CRSP indexes as your authority, I just looked at what those classifications represented.

    Would you say that BRK.A is, or has been a growth stock over the past several years? I ask because based on the metrics you gave it looks like it's been a much more growthy stock than AAPL. It had a higher P/E ratio over that time frame (21.17 average vs. 17.58 average) and a lower yield (it doesn't pay any divs). (Data from key statistics page for each security at Fidelity's site.)

    "Higher growth" of what? Here's what Fidelity gives as growth metrics:

    EPS growth:
    - Last quarter EPS vs. corresponding 2019 quarter: 87.56% vs. -3.63% (BRK.A vs AAPL)
    - TTM vs prior TTM: 36.85% vs. 10.04%
    - Last 5 years: 32.74% vs. 7.31%
    - Projected EPS growth (next year vs. this year): 16.86% vs. 9.37%

    Revenue growth (Lewis also gave some of these figures):
    - Last quarter vs. corresponding 2019 quarter: 24.65% vs. 1.03%
    - TTM vs. prior TTM: 7.90% vs. 5.51%
    - Last five years: 10.94% vs. 3.27%

    Book value per share growth (last five years): 12.08% vs. -11.35%
    Cash flow growth rate (last five years): 27.41% vs. 1.39%

    Am I suggesting that BRK.A has been a growth stock over the past five years? Hardly. Despite the fact that based on the metrics above it "looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck." Rather I'm suggesting that identifying ducks isn't duck soup.

    According to S&P, "the market" (well, 90% of it) had an average TTM P/E of 34.2 at the end of October.

    One can calculate AAPL's TTM P/E on Oct 30th by dividing its price/share on that date by its TTM earnings/share, as is done here. Per Yahoo, the closing price was $108.86. Per Fidelity's earnings page for AAPL, the TTM adjusted actual EPS (as of Sept 30th) was $3.28. That makes the Oct 30th P/E ratio 33.19 or just about one less than "the market" average. A value stock?
  • edited November 2020
    It also seems an antiquated fallacy to say growth stocks are those with high valuations, being therefore the opposite of value ones. The opposite of a cheap stock is an expensive one, not necessarily a growth stock. A growth stock should have, well, growth that is better than its peers—higher revenue, cash flow and earnings growth. Apple doesn’t seem particularly successful on those fronts of late. It is also a hallmark of growth companies that they often don’t have a ton of cash sitting on their balance sheets because they are growing so rapidly they must reinvest in the business in new avenues and expansion to keep the growth coming. Once there’s a lot of cash sitting around the business is often mature with limited avenues for rapid growth. I think of Apple as a high quality company with a lot of cash and a moderate to slow growth rate in 2020. It is arguably as MSF describes it—blend—a blue chip stock with its heady growth days in the past.
  • Sounds right to me.
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