The last few years have been a struggle for investors in Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/B) Since the March 2009 market low, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has risen 80 percent compared with 44 percent for Berkshire, even though crashing stock prices and unprecedented volatility perfectly suited Warren Buffett’s investing style.
Now Berkshire stock hovers at about a 10 percent premium to the company’s estimated $110,000 per-share book value at March 31, 2012, (assuming the overall book value increases in a rising stock market by about $10 billion this quarter) and perhaps below a liquidation price. In essence, the market is placing no value on Berkshire’s prospects.
I believe two basic problems have brought Berkshire to this pass. First, Buffett’s investing record has been underwhelming for the past few years, except for special opportunities linked to his own reputation and relationships. Second, Buffett has lost stature because of the way he uses his role as a public figure. And both of these situations will be difficult to reverse.