I’ve been spending a lot of time studying Berkshire Hathaway’s float with the aim of deconstructing its capital structure. As I read and re-read Warren Buffett’s annual letters his true genius continues to fascinate me.
While many readers will know Berkshire is re-known for its insurance float, it will soon be surpassed by its deferred tax float. While one form of this float is unrealised capital gains, the more material source is being generated by depreciation related deferred tax liabilities from the capital intensive businesses such as BNSF (rail-road) and MidAmerican (Utilities). As such, these infrastructure acquisitions were just as much about generating new sources of float as they were about buying ‘great businesses’ – the two ideas go hand in glove.
Float growth is a key driver of intrinsic value for Berkshire, however, now that insurance float is maturing, Buffett needs new and innovative ways to grow it. Railroad assets like BNSF have useful lives of 100 years and will generate deferred tax liabilities for decades after Buffett’s succession – the tax man ‘Uncle Sam’ is a key player of Berkshire’s future…
In 2012 Warren Buffett indicated he would buyback Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) stock up to 120% of its book value, but have you wondered why 120% is the right yardstick and not 110% or 130%? There have been a few posts explaining why 120% might sound reasonable premised on assumptions around estimated book growth and future multiples, however these arguments are unconvincing in my view.
I believe the ‘magic’ 120% of book value is a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation which makes an adjustment for Berkshires capital structure. Continue reading →
This is a detailed study of insurance float and its role in the valuation of insurance stocks. Buffett made insurance float famous using it to turn Berkshire into an insurance and investment powerhouse. In doing so he has detailed the importance of float in understanding Berkshires valuation, though much of his teachings around float has been lost outside of Berkshire. However, his process remains highly applicable to mainstream insurance analysis, particularly in the determination of intrinsic value.
The report will explore the application of his principles to Australian insurance companies with a focus on successful valuation and stock-picking. Readers will learn why conventional valuation techniques can be flawed and how float-based valuation can be used within a value investing framework. The key issues I cover include: Continue reading →