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Warren Buffett's Desire to Hike Stake In Chinese Electric Car-Maker May Not Be New

Monday, 31 Aug 2009 | 2:47 PM ET
BYD's all-electric e6 Sedan
BYD's all-electric e6 Sedan

Shares of Chinese electric-car maker BYD rallied 8 percent in Hong Kong trading today (Monday), finishing at an all-time closing of HK$48.60.

The buying was apparently sparked by news wire headlines quoting BYD's chairman as saying Warren Buffett "wants" or "intends" to raise Berkshire Hathaway's 10 percent stake in the company.

Berkshire's MidAmerican Energy Holdings has already generated a paper profit of over $1 billion on its $230 million dollar investment announced last fall.

While it is dificult to precisely parse words when they're spoken (presumably) in Chinese and then reported in headlines and wire dispatches, it appears to me that BYD Chairman & CEO Wang Chuanfu may not have been saying anything new.

According to the Reuters story, Wang told reporters:

"MidAmerican has always intended to raise its stake in BYD because it believes BYD has good prospects in the development of renewable energy, but we are still considering (whether to sell more)."

The "always" implies MidAmerican's interest in buying more shares is not new, and the "still considering" indicates BYD won't necessarily agree to sell Buffett a bigger stake in the company.

That interest to buy more on Buffett's side, and reluctance to sell on BYD's side, is consistent with Fortune's cover story earlier this year describing the negotiations that led to Berkshire's investment in BYD:

Berkshire Hathaway first tried to buy 25% of BYD, but Wang turned down the offer. He wanted to be in business with Buffett - to enhance his brand and open doors in the U.S., he says - but he would not let go of more than 10% of BYD's stock. "This was a man who didn't want to sell his company," Buffett says. "That was a good sign."

That 10 percent stake would be diluted if BYG goes ahead with plans to sell 100 million shares for a listing on mainland China. If that happens, Buffett would need to buy more shares, almost certainly at a higher price than his inital HK$8/share, just to maintain his 10 percent ownership in BYD.

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