The Secret Berkshire Discount

Brad Briggs's picture

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - 12:12pm

by Brad Briggs

Warren Buffett is up to his old tricks again.

Buffett's holding company, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B), is buying the railroad Burlington Northern (NYSE: BNI) in a savvy move that's sure to bear fruit for years to come.

But as StreetAuthority's Andy Obermueller recently noted, the 50-to-1 split of Berkshire's Class B shares is the real cause for excitement. When the shares split, each share of Berkshire B, which trade for about $3,400, will be turned into 50 shares worth about $68. Nothing materially changes with the shares -- they will just seem more affordable at $68 than they do at $3,400.

The split is also causing speculation that the B shares may be included in the S&P 500 Index. Such a move would attract large orders from index funds, many of which now have share price and liquidity requirements that exclude Berkshire.

All of these factors could trigger a wave of buying activity.

Splitting the shares so they trade at $68 instead of $3,400 is a nice trick, but there's an even cheaper way to own Berkshire Hathaway.

Nathan Slaughter, editor of The ETF Authority, found a way for investors to own Berkshire for as little as $5.50 a share in March. Investors can do this by buying Boulder Growth & Income Fund (NYSE: BIF). BIF is a closed-end fund, and it's been one of the best ways to invest in Berkshire Hathaway without ponying up thousands of dollars.

Berkshire is far-and-away the fund's largest holding, comprising 25% of the portfolio. The rest is filled quality names like Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ). Both are Buffett holdings.

The fund carries an additional bonus: It trades at a -17% discount to its net asset value. Closed-end funds can trade at a discount when the share price falls below the fund's per share asset value. This means investors who buy will get a dollar's worth of assets for 83 cents. The market often reacts when funds sell at steep discounts -- investors quickly pile in, the shares pop and the discount narrows.

BIF has beaten the S&P 500 in six of the past seven years. It has even outperformed Buffett during the past year:

Since the market's March lows, BIF has returned +35% while Berkshire's shares have remained flat.

Berkshire's shares won't remain flat for long. Buffett began acquiring Berkshire for $8 a share and the 'A' shares trade for $102,000 today. His track record speaks for itself. When Buffett's latest moves begin to pay off, BIF will be along for the ride.

Berkshire Hathaway has proven itself to be one of the most successful vehicles of wealth creation in the history of Wall Street. Owning the company at a -17% discount and for as little as $5.50 a share is one of the best-kept secrets out there. For investors interested in investing alongside Buffett, this is a steal of a deal.

Brad Briggs does not personally hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.
StreetAuthority LLC does not hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.