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New FinReg Rules May Require Buffett's Berkshire to Post $8 Billion Collateral

Wednesday, 30 Jun 2010 | 7:33 PM ET
Warren Buffett
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Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway may need $6 to $8 billion in collateral for its multi-billion dollar collateral contracts, if the financial regulation bill passes Congress in its current form.

That's the estimate of Barclays Capital analyst Jay Gelb in a note to clients today, although we won't know for sure until the dust settles.

Dow Jonesquotes Gelb as saying the proposed FinReg law now being debated on Capitol Hill is a "negative development for Berkshire Hathaway."

Buffett had argued that Berkshire, or any other company, shouldn't be forced to put up collateral against existing contracts because it would have been able to charge more for those contracts if collateral had been included when they were written. "If the restaurant only gets paid for an 8-ounce steak, they don't want to give you the 12-ounce one," he told the Omaha World-Herald in late April.

He had no objection to Congress requiring collateral for future derivatives deals.

But Barron's says Gelb is telling clients, "As a financial entity, we believe Berkshire Hathaway will be classified as a major participant and not be grandfathered for avoiding additional collateral requirements."

With a notional value of $62 billion, Berkshire's derivatives could require "perhaps $6-8 billion of additional collateral, based on 10% of the notional or 100% of the options proceeds as a rough starting point," says Gelb.

David Sokol, Chairman of Berkshire subsidiary MidAmerican Energy, told CNBC's Becky Quick on April 30 that the "worst case" would involve Berkshire posting between $6 and $10 billion in collateral, "which we have and which is a non-issue."

Sokol said then that Berkshire's concern was for "the financial integrity of our economy" because a retroactive collateral requirement would violate the concept of "sanctity of contract."

Buffett has said if Berkshire is required to post additional collateral, it plans to use its investment portfolio rather than cash.

Most of the derivative contracts sold by Berkshire involve equity-index puts, essentially insurance policies that protect the buyer from a long-term drop in stock market prices.

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