Stock Splits and Trading Activity Assignment | Homework For You
Summarize two topics you found to be most noteworthy in this reading. Follow general PAA requirements.
Answer must be in your own words.
D. Stock Splits and Trading Activity?
We often are asked why Berkshire does not split its stock. The assumption behind this question usually appears to be that a split would be a pro-shareholder action. We disagree. Let me tell you why. One of our goals is to have Berkshire Hathaway stock sell at a price rationally related to its intrinsic business value. (But note “rationally related,” not “identical”: if well-regarded companies are generally selling in the market at large discounts from value, Berkshire might well be priced similarly.) The key to a rational stock price is rational shareholders, both current and prospective. If the holders of a company’s stock and/or the prospective buyers attracted to it are prone to make irrational or emotionbased decisions, some pretty silly stock prices are going to appear periodically. Manic-depressive personalities produce manic-depressive valuations. Such aberrations may help us in buying and selling the stocks of other companies. But we think it is in both your interest and ours to minimize their occurrence in the market for Berkshire. To obtain only high quality shareholders is no cinch. Mrs. Astor could select her 400, but anyone can buy any stock. Entering members of a shareholder “club” cannot be screened for intellectual capacity, emotional stability, moral sensitivity or acceptabledress. Shareholder eugenics, therefore, might appear to be a hopeless undertaking. In large part, however, we feel that high quality ownership can be attracted and maintained if we consistently communicate our business and ownership philosophy-along with no other conflicting messages-and then let self selection follow its course. For example, self selection will draw a far different crowd to a musical event advertised as an opera than one advertised as a rock concert- even though anyone can buy a ticket to either. Through our policies and communications-our “advertisements”- we try to attract investors who will understand our operations, attitudes and expectations. (And, fully as important, we try to dissuade those who won’t.) We want those who think of themselves as business owners and invest in companies with the intention of staying a long time.
And, we want those who keep their eyes focused on business results, not market prices. Investors possessing those characteristics are in a small minority, but we have an exceptional collection of them. I believe well over 90%-probably over 95%-of our shares are held by those who were shareholders of Berkshire or Blue Chip five years ago. And I would guess that over 95% of our shares are held by investors for whom the holding is at least double the size of their next largest. Among companies with at least several thousand public shareholders and more than $1 billion of market value, we are almost certainly the leader in the degree to which our shareholders think and act like owners. Upgrading a shareholder group that possesses these characteristics is not easy. 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 exiting class of sellers. At $1300,there are very few investors who can’t afford a Berkshire share. Would a potential one-share purchaser be better off if we split 100 for 1 so he could buy 100 shares?
Those who think so and who would buy the stock because of the split or in anticipation of one would definitely downgrade the quality of our present shareholder group. (Could we really improve our shareholder group by trading some of our present dear-thinking members for impressionable new ones who, preferring paper to value, feel wealthier with nine $10 bills than with one $100 bill?) People who buy for non-value reasons are likely to sell for non-value reasons. Their presence in the picture will accentuate erratic price swings unrelated to underlying business developments. 1997] THE ESSAYS OF WARREN BUFFETT 129 We will try to avoid policies that attract buyers with a shortterm focus on our stock price and try to allow policies that attract informed long-term investors focusing on business values. Just as you purchased your Berkshire shares in a market populated by rational informed investors, you deserve a chance to sell-should you ever want to-in the same kind of market.
We will work to keep it in existence. One of the ironies of the stock market is the emphasis on activity. Brokers, using terms such as “marketability” and “liquidity”, sing the praises of companies with high share turnover (those who cannot fill your pocket will confidently fill your ear). But investors should understand that what is good for the croupier is not good for the customer. A hyperactive stock market is the pickpocket of enterprise. For example, consider a typical company earning, say, 12% on equity. Assume a very high turnover rate in its shares of 100% per year. If a purchase and sale of the stock trades at book value, the owners of our hypothetical company will pay, in aggregate, 2% of the company’s net worth annually for the privilege of transferring ownership. This activity does nothing for the earnings of the business, and means that 1/6 of them are lost to the owners through the “frictional” cost of transfer. (And this calculation does not count option trading, which would increase frictional costs still further.) All that makes for a rather expensive game of musical chairs.
Can you imagine the agonized cry that would arise if a governmental unit were to impose a new 162/3% tax on earnings of corporations or investors? By market activity, investors can impose upon themselves the equivalent of such a tax. Days when the market trades 100 million shares (and that kind of volume, when over-the-counter trading is included, is today abnormally low) are a curse for owners, not a blessing-for they mean that owners are paying twice as much to change chairs as they are on a SO-million-share day. If 100-million-share days persist for a year and the average cost on each purchase and sale is 1S¢ a share, the chair-changing tax for investors in aggregate would total about $7.5 billion-an amount roughly equal to the combined 1982 profits of Exxon, General Motors, Mobil and Texaco, the four largest companies in the Fortune 500. These companies had a combined net worth of $75 billion at yearend 1982 and accounted for over 12% of both net worth and net income of the entire Fortune 500 list.
Under our assumption investors, in aggregate, every year forfeit all earnings from this 130 CARDOZO LAW REVIEW [Vol. 19:1 staggering sum of capital merely to satisfy their penchant for “financial flip-flopping”. In addition, investment management fees of over $2 billion annually-sums paid for chair-changing advice-require the forfeiture by investors of all earnings of the five largest banking organizations (Citicorp, Bank America, Chase Manhattan, Manufacturers Hanover and J.P. Morgan). These expensive activities may decide who eats the pie, but they don’t enlarge it. (We are aware of the pie-expanding argument that says that such activities improve the rationality of the capital allocation process. We think that this argument is specious and that, on balance, hyperactive equity markets subvert rational capital allocation and act as pie shrinkers. Adam Smith felt that all noncollusive acts in a free market were guided by an invisible hand that led an economy to maximum progress; our view is that casino-type markets and hair-trigger investment management act as an invisible foot that trips up and slows down a forward-moving economy.)
Contrast the hyperactive stock with Berkshire. The bid-andask spread in our stock currently is about 30 points, or a little over 2%. Depending on the size of the transaction, the difference between proceeds received by the seller of Berkshire and cost to the buyer may range downward from 4% (trading involving only a few shares) to perhaps 1½% (in large trades where negotiation can reduce both the market-maker’s spread and the broker’s commission). Because most Berkshire shares are traded in fairly large transactions, the spread on all trading probably does not average more than 2%. Meanwhile, true turnover in Berkshire stock (excluding interdealer transactions, gifts and bequests) probably runs 3% per year. Thus our owners, in aggregate, are paying perhaps 6/100 of 1% of Berkshire’s market value annually for transfer privileges. By this very rough estimate, that’s $900,000-not a small cost, but far less than average. Splitting the stock would increase that cost, downgrade the quality of our shareholder population, and encourage a market price less consistently related to intrinsic business value. We see no offsetting advantages.Get Finance homework help today