While Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett has faced pressure to use the firm’s nearly $150 billion in cash balances to make a significant acquisition, or “elephant investment,” the company’s biggest spending seems to have been on its own stock. This according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.
Berkshire reportedly purchased $9 billion of its own shares in the third quarter, bringing total buybacks for the first three quarters of 2020 to $15.7 billion—and making buybacks one of Berkshire’s biggest investments. This contrasts sharply to Buffett’s long-standing position against share buybacks.
The article reports that, according to analysts, a main reason for Buffett’s change of tune is that elephant acquisitions have become increasingly harder to find. According to Whitney Tilson, founder of Empire Financial Research, “To move the needle, he [Buffett] needs to make investment decisions where he’s allocating, I would argue, $10 billion or up.”
George Washington University law professor Lawrence Cunningham sees the buybacks as a way to narrow the company’s shareholders to longer-term investors: “It’s a very helpful positive for a post-Buffett Berkshire. You’re going to maintain the quality of the shareholder base.”