Berkshire climbs to $200,000 a share, extending Buffett’s record

08/14/2014 10:02 AM

08/14/2014 10:03 AM

Berkshire Hathaway stock moved above $200,000 for the first time Thursday, further validating Chairman Warren Buffett’s vision for building wealth at the company he has run for almost five decades.

The Class A shares climbed $3,241 a share to close at $202,850. That’s more than 60 times higher than Seaboard Corp., the agribusiness and transportation company that has the No. 2 price among stocks listed on U.S. exchanges.

“It’s a huge milestone,” said Andrew Kilpatrick, a Buffett biographer who wrote Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett.

“It proves how far things have come, and you start to wonder and imagine in your wildest dreams, ‘Where is this thing going?’ ”

Buffett has shunned the share splits favored by other large companies such as Apple and Wal-Mart Stores, saying a high price discourages short-term speculation. He also rejected a call to institute a dividend and rarely repurchases shares. That has given him funds to build the company into the fifth-largest in the world by market value through acquisitions and stock picks.

Berkshire reached the latest milestone about seven years and 10 months after the stock first reached $100,000. That’s about a year less than it took to double from $50,000. Berkshire, based in Omaha, Neb., beat the Standard & Poor’s 500 index in both periods.

In the more recent span, Buffett pushed the company into regulated capital-intensive businesses such as utilities and Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway, which he acquired in 2010 for more than $26 billion. He also propped up companies such as Goldman Sachs Group and General Electric, which turned to Berkshire for capital in the 2008 financial crisis when other sources of funding dried up.

Berkshire’s workforce climbed to more than 330,000 at the end of 2013. In Fort Worth, the company owns BNSF, Justin Brands, Acme Brick and TTI. Net income reached $19.5 billion last year, up from $11 billion in 2006.

The stock has rallied about 15 percent since Feb. 28, the day before Berkshire released its annual report, in which Buffett wrote that the company’s actual worth has been rising faster than suggested by metrics such as book value, a measure of assets minus liabilities.

“As I’ve long told you, Berkshire’s intrinsic value far exceeds its book value,” Buffett wrote in his letter. “Moreover, the difference has widened considerably in recent years.” Buffett has said intrinsic value, a subjective metric that accounts for the amount of cash that can be taken out of a business in its lifetime, is a better tool for evaluation.

Berkshire extended its gains after reporting Aug. 1 that net income in the three months ended June 30 climbed 41 percent to $6.4 billion, a quarterly record for Buffett. Operating profit, which excludes some investment results, beat analysts’ estimates.

Buffett has sought to tie his company’s fortunes to the prospects of the U.S. A rebound in the world’s largest economy has boosted the value of Berkshire’s stock portfolio and helped propel growth at operating business that include insurers, manufacturers, retailers, utilities and BNSF, one of the country’s largest railroads.

A high stock price presents a barrier to entry for short-term investors and encourages shareholders to think like owners, Buffett has said.

“Were we to split the stock or take other actions focusing on stock price rather than business value, we would attract an entering class of buyers inferior to the existing class of sellers,” he wrote in a letter to shareholders in 1984, when the Class A shares traded for about $1,300.

While Buffett still controls the biggest stake in the company, and directors like Charles Munger and David Gottesman remain among the top investors, the issuance of Class B stock made owning a piece of Berkshire affordable to a larger group of investors.

Buffett created the equities in 1996 by dividing Class A shares by 30 to prevent fund managers from carving them up in trusts and selling lower-priced interests. He split the B shares 50-for-1 in 2010 to help the takeover of the railroad. The split let BNSF investors convert more of their holdings into Berkshire shares, reducing tax costs.

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