Using Options To Go Long Berkshire Hathaway

In my last post, I mentioned that Berkshire Hathaway was undervalued and a good buy that the current price of $76 per B-share.

It turns out that it’s probably a better buy than anyone expected.

Buffett just announced that he’s spent $10.7 billion buying IBM stock, as well as a few billion dollars on CVS and VISA.

I currently own BRK-B, and I’d like to increase my exposure to it. But I’m strapped for cash.

So how do I make money from being LONG BRK when I’m short on cash?

Time to look at option strategies.

When most investors are bullish on a stock, they buy CALL options on it. They fork over some money (called a premium) and have an option to buy that stock at a specific price (called a strike price) at a future date. If the stock price exceeds your strike price, then you’ve made money.

One problem with this approach is that the recent volatility in the market has increased the premiums on options.

Another problem with this approach is that usually,  investors lose money on options. Most commonly, the options expire worthless because the stock price didn’t hit your strike price. And sometimes investors paid too much premium, so that despite exceeding the strike price, they still end up losing money overall.

Let’s look at an example.

Consider the BRK-B, Jan 2013 $75 CALL option. It’s currently selling for $10.50, which means on each contract (1 contract is 100 shares), you’d pay $1,050.

So, in January 2013, unless BRK-B is trading for more than $85.50, you’ve lost a thousand dollars!

A better way is to use PUT options.

When you buy a PUT option, you’re paying a premium and you have the right to sell a stock to someone at a specific price at a future date. You make money if the stock price declines below the strike price. You would enter this contract if you were bearish on the stock.

However, if you SELL a PUT option, you receive a premium. In return, you must buy the stock if it declines below a certain price. If the stock goes up in value, then you get to pocket the premium. So you would only enter this contract if you were bullish on the stock.

Being bullish on BRK-B, and short of cash, I’ve taken a short PUT position.

As I outlined in my previous post, I think BRK-B is worth $112 and has a floor below $72.

I sold the Jan 2013 $60 PUT for $4.50. This means I collected $450 per contract.

If BRK-B drops below $60 per share, I will be forced to buy the stock.

However, based on the premium I collected up front, my purchase price will be $55.50 or 50% of what I think is the intrinsic value.

Mostly likely, the option will expire worthless and I’ll get to keep the premium.

This also how you can turn around the high premiums to work in your favor.

If I didn’t already own BRK-B, I would go for a higher strike price. Most likely, I would sell the Jan 2013 $80 PUT for $11. This would allow me to collect $1,100 per contract.

Of course, the risk that I would be assigned the stock would also be much higher. But I would be comfortable owning this stock at an effective price of $69 per share ($80 strike price – $11 premium = $69).

Option trading is not without risk.

It’s easy to over-leverage and wipe out your portfolio. I use this strategy with great caution and with a lot of forethought.

You also need the highest level of option trading and a margin account in order to sell puts.

A trade like this one usually has a 20% margin requirement. Which means, I need at least $1,200 in margin. Based on that margin a $450 premium would represent a 37.5% gain in 14 months. Not too shabby.

If you’d like to learn more about option trading, I strongly recommend The Bible of Options Strategies: The Definitive Guide for Practical Trading Strategies. It’s a excellent primer on various option strategies.

Disclosure: If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m long BRK-B. Both the stock and by selling puts.

Cisco Shines: What To Buy Next?

About four months ago I made the case for going long Cisco. At the time, Google shares (GOOG) had popped 20%, and I was looking for a new company to invest in.

In the middle of July Cisco (CSCO) was trading at $15.66.  From a fundamental perspective, Cisco was cheap – selling at less than 10 times free cash flow, and had just started paying a 1.5% dividend. However, the market was discounting the stock price  because they didn’t believe the CEO, John Chambers, could revitalize the aging tech giant.

But regardless of the management, based on just the numbers, the stock was too cheap too pass up.

And numbers don’t lie.

Yesterday, Cisco announced stellar results. It seems that growth is picking up.

Since that last post, shares of Cisco are up almost 20%, at $18.61.

Cisco isn’t the only company doing well this economic environment.

Large cap blue-chip companies like Intel (INTC), Microsoft (MSFT), Walmart (WMT), Johnson &  Johnson (JNJ) are also doing well.  Even my old favorite Vodafone (VOD) which I bought over a year ago is doing well. The share price, currently at $28.39, is up nearly 23% from my purchase, and it currently yields 6.75%.

So what stock is worth buying today?

Believe it or not, it’s Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A or BRK-B).

Buffett recently announced that Berkshire would buy back shares below 1.1 times the book value. The world’s best value investor definitely recognizes value in his company stock price and has effectively put a floor underneath the stock.

Currently trading at a Price/Book  of 1.15,  the stock is close to that floor.

Let’s look at the B shares, or the baby Berkshires (BRK-B), which currently trade at $76.

Buffett’s 1.1x of book value puts the stock price floor at $72.69. But how much is the stock actually worth?

This is actually very simple to calculate.

The value of the publicly-traded securities owned by Berkshire is $63.66. The rest of the companies made $4.8 in earnings. These companies are worth about 10 times the earnings or another $48.

Add the $48 to the $63.66 and we get $111.66.

So buying Berkshire today means we have a floor at 5% below today’s price, and an upside of 31%.

Disclosure: I’m Long CSCO, BRK-B, MSFT, INTC, WMT and JNJ

Berskshire Hathaway Splits 50-to-1

Today the baby Berkshires (BRK.B) split 50 to 1. And it’s up 4%! This was to be expected. The stock is now affordable to many small investors and there is talk about it being added to the S&P500 index.

When the stock split was first announced, I had a brilliant idea to sell my baby Berks on the news and then re-buy them just before the split. I figured that the euphoria of the split news would push the stock higher and then the enthusiasm would die down and I could buy them back lower.  So the stocks that I bought at $2,550 (split adjusted price of $51) were sold at $3,500 (split adjusted stock price of $70).

My plan worked. The stock drifted down to $3,250. I would’ve been happy to buy them at $3,300. Especially since the current price is $72.25 or just over $3,600 pre-split price. Unfortunately, with my busy school schedule, I totally forgot to put in a buy order and ended up buying the stock back at $71.

Sometimes it better to not try and optimize everything! How many of you are buying BRK-B now that it’s more affordable?

Reporting From Omaha 2: The Annual Berkshire Meeting

The meeting started off with a humorous cartoon video of Charlie Munger running for US president. There was also a short video of Warren Buffett playing a role on tv-soap “Days of our lives” and Susan Lucci actually appeared live at the meeting.

Rather than a boring annual meeting discussing the various aspects of BRK’s business, Warren Buffett instead started fielding questions from the audience, which went on for several hours. Except for which stocks BRK was buying, no question was taboo.

Here’s some interesting points from meeting:

1. Most of what you learn about Business school is crap.

You only need 2 courses, how to value a business and how to think about stock market fluctuations. Unfortunately most professors end up teaching what they know, which consists of complex formulas and other useless stuff.

I kind of knew this, even though I am going to start B-school in the fall.

2. Develop good communication skills.

That’ll be useful in life regardless of what you do.

3. Non-professional investors should diversify their investments, both in terms of stocks and also in terms of time.

Buffett also recommended buying a low-cost index fund.

4. Be frugal, spend less than you earn, and invest a portion of your income.

5. The best investments are simple ones.

If an investment is overly complex it is usually never a good one. Buffett invested millions in PetroChina (PTR) after only reading the annual report. He realized the business was worth several times more than its current stock value and that there was sufficient margin of safety to invest.

6. Always be ethical and honest in your business deals.

All of the managers of the individual business owned by bRK are upright and ethical. As a result, Buffett doesn’t feel the need to micro-manage them and lets them do whatever they want. This fits in well with BRK’s philosophy. Whenever Buffett and Munger agree to buy a business, its set in stone. Whether there is “a nuclear explosion in New York, a flu epidemmic or Federal Chairmain Ben Bernanke runs off with Paris Hilton to South America“, the deal will go through. Yes, he actually said that.

7. Invest in yourself.

A person’s potential always greatly exceeds his realized performance. Invest in yourself and try to maximize your performance.

8. Read good books.

Two of the books Munger recommends are Yes and Influence. I strongly recommend Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T Munger, which is a beautiful hardcover book filled with Munger’s wit & wisdom. It also makes a great gift. One of my friends even called it one of the “all time best finance books“.

9. America is a rich country and may not need to save as much as other countries.

Maybe saving money isn’t necessary for the US, although it does look like we’re exporting ownership in US assets which is not good.

10. Financial innovation for risk diversification should be banned.

The current credit crisis and meltdown in the banking sector was caused by innovative financial products that were designed to make money for the financial institutions. Munger said that the online grocery delivery company, WebVan was a pretty asinine idea, but compared to the current bankers, those execs looked like geniuses!

11. The US Dollar is likely to weaken over the next decade.

A lot of BRK’s businesses have global sales, so a weakening dollar will result in improved profits. For example, BRK owns 200 million shares of Coke, of which 80% of its income comes from global sales.

12. We’re likely to see very high inflation over the next several years.

Inflation is bad, but BRK will profit more, than if there was no inflation.

13. Don’t buy BRK stock.

If you have time to go through the universe of stocks and pick winners, then do that instead of investing in BRK. BRK can only buy huge companies because buying a small company barely puts a dent in the annual revenue. You might be able to get better returns on your own.

Of course, there were several hours of Q & A so this is just a small tidbit. If you’d like to read the whole script you can do so at The Investment Advice of Warren Buffett.

Reporting From Omaha : The Cocktail Reception

I finally made in to Omaha. Unfortunately I missed my connecting flight in Denver due to inclement weather and was informed that I’d have to spend the night there. Luckily I was able to track down a high-school friend of mine and catch with her after nearly 15 years. Of course with the 1 hour commute each way and my early morning flight, there wasn’t much time to catch-up or sleep, but if it hadn’t been for the sudden snow storm, I probably wouldn’t have seen her or her artist boyfriend for another 5 years!

This year there’s an estimated 27,000 Berkshire shareholders descending on the town of Omaha (population of approximately 400,000). The place is swarming with visitors. i went to the Borshiems Cocktail Reception which was a mall that was closed off to regular visitors and opened only to shareholders. It featured live music, food and a huge selection of alcohol. It was completely packed to the seams.

Borshiems is a famous jewelery store that is reportedly number 2, after Tiffany’s, in sales volume. Most of the other shops in the mall were also open but compared to Borshiems, they hardly had any traffic. All Shareholders get huge discounts at Borshiems this weekend. I believe its in the 25% range for jewelery, watches and other knick-knacks. Check out the jewel encrusted purses below. Yes, the piglet and the tomato are purses! Also notice the black purse in the background. It has a silver colored snake on it1

Jewel Encrusted Purses: Piglet, Tomato & Snake

I started talking to one of the local shareholders and he offered me a small tour of the city. We swung by Warren Buffett’s house. Not only is it not the largest house on Farnam street, but there isn’t even a gate. I could’ve pretty much walked up the front door and rang the door bell. Here’s a picture. It was not very well lit so the picture is pretty dark.

Warren Buffett's House on Farnam Street

Buffett reportedly bought it for about $31,500 back in 1958. Today it’s worth about $750,000. I saw a really nice colonial house 2 blocks from there for sale for $299,000.

I also swung by the local Dairy Queen “Restaurant” – I wasn’t aware that they sold non-dairy products like hamburgers and hotdogs. It was totally packed with shareholders trying to get a free icecream cone. There was also Paul Larson, editor of Morningstar (and formally the Motley Fool) handing out free StockInvestor newsletter copies too.

Dairy Queen in Omaha packed with Berkshire shareholders

Well, tomorrow is the big day – its the Annual Shareholder meeting itself! Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a taxi to the Qwest Center without any problem

Omaha Here I Come!

The Annual Shareholder Meeting for Berkshire Hathaway is this Saturday on May 3rd in Omaha, Nebraska. I finally got my meeting credentials from the company. I had been waiting to book my tickets until I got them. It seems I could’ve gotten them in Omaha itself, but I didn’t want to take that risk. It would be pretty stupid if I showed up and they didn’t grant me admission!

Anyway, I’ve been following the online airline prices for flights to Omaha. Two weeks ago, the flights cost around $350 round-trip to Omaha from San Diego. Last Friday and Saturday the cheapest tickets on Orbitz were going for $505. Today, however, the price dropped down to $240! That’s half-price from just two days ago. Now of course, the next challenge is getting accomodation.

Apparently, hotels in the entire city of Omaha are sold out. The nearest hotel room is about 50 miles away in Lincoln, Nebraska! Luckily I found a couch at a friend of a friend’s place that’s only 3 miles away from the Qwest Center (which is where the shareholder meeting is going to take place).

I’m really excited to be going. I’m pretty keen on hearing what Buffett has to say about the bid for Wrigley’s. I also expect to meet a lot of other investors and make some new friends.

If any of you are going to be there, drop me a line and maybe we can meet up.