(Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway succession story updated for Buffett purchase of liquor distributor, Berkshire holding Iron Mountain's weak quarter)
NEW YORK (
) -- Amid the never-ending talk about
succession plans for
is the obvious -- and obviously morbid -- question of whether investors should hold onto Berkshire Hathaway shares once Buffett is no longer running the famed investment company.
Berkshire Hathaway announced on Monday night that it had hired Todd Combs, a hedge fund manager from
Castle Point Capital Management
, to run a significant portion of the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio.
Combs' appointment came as a surprise, though succession planning at Berkshire Hathaway has been a topic that has nagged Buffett for years. During the summer, chatter spiked in the press that Buffett would be hiring Chinese hedge fund manager Li Lu, who had helped turned Berkshire Hathaway on to Chinese car and battery maker
, of which Buffett now owns 10%.
Buffett right hand man Charlie Munger told the
Wall Street Journal
during the summer that Li was likely to be one of the top Berkshire investment officials. "In my mind, it's a foregone conclusion," Mr. Munger had said.
Buffett himself had told the
that his plan was to hire a number of managers to run various stakes within the Berkshire Hathaway investment portfolio. "I like the idea of bringing on other investment managers while I'm still here," Buffett said at the time of the Li Lu chatter.
Li Lu, though, recently was quoted as saying he has no plans to leave his hedge fund. Berkshire Hathaway said it had hired the CEO of Castle Point after a three-year search to "handle a significant portion of Berkshire's investment portfolio."
In any event, Castle Point's investment philosophy makes Combs a natural for Berkshire: a value-oriented investment shop specializing in financial services. In fact, there is overlap between the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio and Castle Point portfolio, specifically in the case of
Berkshire Hathaway announced on Wednesday that it was buying a reinsurance business from Canada's Sun Life Financial that backstops $109 billion in life insurance policies. Buffett is among the largest reinsurance players in the world, and Combs, too, has invested in reinsurance businesses, with reinsurer Renaissance Re being among Castle Point's Top 10 holdings, according to published reports.
Comparisons are already being made in the press between Warren Buffett's famous penchant for the pen come annual letter time, and Combs' own literary flair, which the
noted has included references to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection as a way of talking about investments.
There were scant details on Combs other than the information on the Castle Point web site and the snippets from annual letters he has penned to shareholders. And let's face facts, regardless of what the average retail investor learns about Castle Point, Combs is not going to be a reason for the retail investor to stay in Berkshire Hathaway shares in the post-Warren era. Warren Buffett's public profile is so large -- and he has made it even larger by way of his calculating use of the media -- that there is no way any hedge fund manager is going to step in and put to rest fears among investors that Buffett can be effectively replaced as the Berkshire Hathaway brain trust.