Sometime around 1980, can't remember exactly, there was a flight of money from many countries to Switzerland. The clock makers had so much money pouring in that the banks took interest rates to zero and even for a period of time were actually making you pay ½% interest to them to put your money in their banks. Yes, it actually happened because people believed their money was going to be safe there. It was.
Warren Buffett recently sold some convertible debentures - about $400 million. These are bonds that can be converted into shares of stock in the same company, namely Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA). Mr. B said the money was to be used for general purposes and possible acquisitions. Their statement indicates they have plenty of money now, but Warren is very good at buying companies that are in trouble.
What Warren has done has never been done to the American investor before or at least I haven't heard of it. The bond portion of the offering only pays 3% interest. Not much, but Berkshire Hathaway has an excellent history of making money so investors would rather have 3% for sure than 5% of maybe not getting their money with another company. But here is the kicker that sets Mr. B apart from anyone else. Along with the debenture come a warrant. A warrant in this instance is like an option to buy additional shares - nothing new here. If you want to keep the warrant active you must pay Berkshire Hathaway 3 ¾ % interest.
The warrant is convertible into the stock of Berkshire Hathaway at a price 15% higher than the price on May 21, 2002, about $78,000. The stock has to go up to $89,700 to break even. In other words you are giving Mr. Buffet say $100,000 for which he is paying you 3%, $3,000 annually, and in turn to keep the warrant you are then paying him 3 ¾%, $3,750 annually. He is using your money until the year 2007. Wow! What a deal - for him. The reason Warren can get away with this is that he has a great reputation for making money. If, and that is a big "if" in this bear market, the stock of Berkshire does go up you will be able buy it at a real bargain. That is the reason you are paying the premium. Today's Price/Earnings ratio is 101 and the S&P Index is 41. What will the P/E and price of Berkshire be if the P/E of the S&P goes to 17?
Mr. Buffett himself has said we are going to have to be very astute to make 5% in the market over the next 7 or 8 years. Any stock in a bear market is like a ship that is in the water. When the tide goes out all the boats go down. This is a bet that investors believe Warren can beat the bear. He thinks we are in for a long-term bear from which he can't help but profit because he will not have to pay off the warrants.
It is hard to believe anyone who is an astute investor would buy this; however, the offering was oversubscribed. Warren Buffet you are a genius.
Al Thomas' best selling book, "If It Doesn't Go Up, Don't Buy It!" has helped thousands of people make money and keep their profits with his simple 2-step method. Read the first chapter to receive his market letter for 3 months at www.mutualfundmagic.com to discover why he's the man that Wall Street does not want you to know.
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