Warren Buffett says Berkshire may only do slightly better than the average company due to its sheer size

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Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at press conference during the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, April 30, 2022.
CNBC

Berkshire Hathaway‘s Warren Buffett said his sprawling conglomerate may only slightly outperform the average American company due to its sheer size and the lack of buying opportunities that could make an impact.

The Omaha-based giant — owner of everything from BNSF Railway to Dairy Queen and 6% of Apple — has by far the largest net worth recorded by any American business and now reached 6% of that of the total S&P 500 companies, Buffett said in his annual letter released Saturday.

“There remain only a handful of companies in this country capable of truly moving the needle at Berkshire, and they have been endlessly picked over by us and by others,” Buffett wrote. “Some we can value; some we can’t. And, if we can, they have to be attractively priced.”

The last sizable deal Berkshire did was buying insurer and conglomerate Alleghany for $11.6 billion in 2022. The “Oracle of Omaha” has also acquired a 28% stake in energy giant Occidental Petroleum, while ruling out buying the whole company. These moves, while significant, didn’t live up to the expectation of an “elephant-sized” target that Buffett has been wanting to make for years.

Berkshire held a record $167.6 billion in cash in the fourth quarter.

“Outside the U.S., there are essentially no candidates that are meaningful options for capital deployment at Berkshire. All in all, we have no possibility of eye-popping performance,” Buffett said.

Berkshire did build a 9% stake in five Japanese trading companies — Itochu, Marubeni, Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Sumitomo, which Buffett intends to own long term.

The 93-year-old Buffett said Berkshire’s group of diversified, quality businesses should provide “slightly better” performance than the average U.S. company, but anything more than that is unlikely.

‘With our present mix of businesses, Berkshire should do a bit better than the average American corporation and, more important, should also operate with materially less risk of permanent loss of capital,” Buffett said. “Anything beyond ‘slightly better,’ though, is wishful thinking.”

Berkshire recently hit consecutive record highs, trading above $620,000 for Class A shares and boasting a market value above $900 billion.

The conglomerate’s stock has gained about 16% in 2024, more than double the S&P 500′s return, after climbing 16% in all of 2023.

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