Berkshire Hathaway Stock Split Could Put Warren Buffett Into the S&P 500
Berkshire Hathaway will hold a special shareholders meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) morning in Omaha to vote on a proposed 50-for-1 split of the company's Class B shares.
Warren Buffett, who controls about a third of Berkshire's voting rights, supports the move and it is widely expected to be easily approved.
Berkshire's Class A shares, the ones that trade around $100,000 and give their owners voting rights, won't be affected.
After the split, the price of Class B shares, often referred to as the Baby Bs, would go from around $3332 a share (tonight's close) to somewhere between $66 and $67 a share. That would happen as soon as the split is made effective, which could be as early as Thursday.
The resulting increase in trading volume and liquidity may pave the way for the stock to be added to the benchmark S&P 500 index.
The lower entry price could also attract 'small' investors who weren't able, or were unwilling, to spend four-figures on a single share of stock. (That, in turn, may boost attendance at Berkshire's regular annual shareholders meeting in May, since anyone owning even one share is entitled to attend the popular 'Woodstock of Capitalism.')
While most shareholders will vote this time by proxy and avoid making the trip to chilly Nebraska in the middle of January, (TWC's forecast calls for an icy rain), CNBC's Becky Quick is there to report on the meeting.
She's also scheduled to do a live interview with Buffett in the 8A ET hour of CNBC's Squawk Box.
Over the years, Buffett rejected all calls to split the stock, fearing that a lower price would attract buyers looking for short-term trading gains. Buffett says he likes to have long-term 'owners' rather than traders as his partners.
But when Berkshire's proposed acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe was announced last November, Buffett told us:
"I'm not big on stock splits. But by having this split, it enables anybody that has as little as one share of BNSF to opt for the tax-free exchange... So those small shareholders can have exactly the same availability that otherwise would only have been available to a big shareholder."
In a proxy filing, however, Berkshire said its Board of Directors "believes that the split is advisable regardless of the BNSF transaction."
Buffett biographer Alice Schroeder thinks the Burlington Northern deal has provided a "plausible excuse" for a split, giving "Standard & Poor’s the ticket it needs to add Berkshire to the S&P 500 Index at a time when S&P is desperate for large, solvent, high-quality companies to replace the casualties of last year’s carnage."
She writes: "Buffett would never admit to wanting Berkshire to join the S&P, but becoming an acknowledged peer to other major companies is part of the path to his legacy. It isn’t enough for him that Berkshire lives on profitably long after he does. Berkshire is his 'didactic enterprise,' his way of teaching the world how he thinks a business should be run."
And on the WSJ's MarketBeat blog, Ari Weinberg speculates the split may have something to do with Buffett's legacy, and wonders, "Could the sin of a dividend be next on Buffett’s bucket list?"
Current Berkshire stock prices:
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