Buffett Winding Down Derivatives

Warren Buffett is facing the expiration of equity-index put options that the Berkshire Hathaway CEO initiated between 2004 and 2008 “to bet that stock prices would rise in the long run”, according to a recent article in Bloomberg.

The options, tied to four major equity indexes, are reported to have added a total of $2.4 billion in earnings from 2008 to 2017. They began expiring in June, and the last of them will unwind by January of 2026, the article reports, adding that the contracts are “European style, meaning that they can be exercised only at the expiration date.”

One analyst from Edward Jones is quoted: “This is a really unique piece of business. Not a lot of companies besides Berkshire could have written this business. It demonstrates the unique power of this franchise and their size.”

While the article says the derivatives have created some volatility in Berkshire’s quarterly earnings, they were swings that cause Buffett “neither cheer nor bother.”

James Armstrong, president of Henry H. Armstrong Associates, said of Buffett’s move: “These derivatives are an example of his creativity. He saw a mispriced opportunity where Berkshire could make money because people were going to pay more for this insurance than it was going to cost Berkshire.”