Buffett now Largest Shareholder in Bank of America

Now that Bank of America got the Fed’s green light to up its dividend to 48 cents a share (a 60% hike), Berkshire Hathaway has decided to exchange its preferred shares in the bank to roughly $17 billion in common stock, according to last week’s Wall Street Journal. The move will render Berkshire the largest shareholder (7%) of the bank—the country’s second largest in terms of assets—passing Vanguard, which now owns 6.6% (data from FactSet).

Bank of America also got approval to buy back $12.9 billion worth of shares, the article says.

The move is consistent with Buffett’s assertion in his annual letter to shareholders (sent in February) that Berkshire intended to make the swap if BofA could increase its dividend to 44 cents a share—a level that would result in payment to the company that exceeds the current $300 million per year it receives from its preferred holdings.

While the preferred shares have little downside, the article says, they also have little upside. “With a change in Berkshire’s shares,” it asserts, “Mr. Buffett would effectively be saying that he would like to take part in possible gains on Bank of America’s stock while still enjoying a steady dividend.”

The article says that the approval for an increased dividend and share buyback are “positive for Bank of America Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan. The 57-year old lawyer has worked to restore the bank’s relationship with shareholders after years of large mortgage fines and losses stemming from the bank’s crisis-era purchases of Countrywide and Merrill Lynch.”