In his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Warren Buffett defended the firm’s bigger-than-usual share buybacks (of nearly $25 billion) by noting that they boost intrinsic value for shareholders while leaving enough for acquisition opportunities. This according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.
Buffett, who before the last few years refused to buy back any Berkshire stock, has been critical of other CEO’s doing the same: “American CEOs have an embarrassing record of devoting more company funds to repurchases when prices have risen than when they have tanked,” he wrote in the letter.
Berkshire’s hefty cash balances of $138 billion (in the fourth quarter of 2020) had investors watching to see if Buffett would make a major purchase as he has done during other tumultuous economic periods. The article notes, “while Berkshire has made some smaller investments over the last year—most recently investing $8.6 billion in Verizon Communications Inc. and $4.1 billion in Chevron Corp.—the investments haven’t made a large dent in the conglomerate’s available cash. And Berkshire hasn’t bought a majority stake in a major business.”
In his letter, Buffett also addressed what the article described as a “black mark” on Berkshire’s bottom line—the firm’s $11 billion write-down related to its 2016 purchase of Precision Castparts. “I paid too much for the company,” Buffett wrote, adding, “No one misled me in any way—I was simply too optimistic about PCC’s normalized profit potential.”