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TheStreet Open House

You're Not Warren Buffett, So Don't Invest Like Him

Stocks in this article: MEGLEEJRN

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) --Warren Buffett continues to buy small-town newspapers. These moves might prompt investors to follow Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B)into the trade. Don't do it.

I tire of hearing investors, from the retail to professional level, refer to themselves as "Warren Buffett disciples." You're as much a disciple of Warren Buffett as I am the literary offspring of William Gibson.

It's dangerous to mimic somebody like Buffett.

You likely do not have access to all of the components of a deal Buffett makes. Consider the newspaper acquisitions.

Buffett makes a reasonable argument: In these small towns, community life centers around newspapers. The newspaper remains the go-to and, quite often, the only choice for the news locals crave. That makes sense, but is incongruent with Buffett's ownership of the Buffalo News and recent purchase of his hometown paper, the Omaha World-Herald. These aren't necessarily small towns. Bottom line -- Buffett can afford to gamble on these properties. You and I likely cannot.

He can afford this, not simply because he's filthy rich, but because he can work deals to which the rest of us do not have access.

For example, when Buffett spent $142 million to buy local newspapers from Media General (MEG), he got more than the newspapers. Buffett loaned Media General millions, at a 10.5% interest rate, and took a 20% ownership stake in the company via penny warrants. Simply put, he got a sweet deal.

In typical Buffett fashion, he wins even if he loses. Maybe his bet on small-town newspapers will end up flat or fizzle, but he still managed to effectively loan shark Media General. Here's a company bleeding cash and losing money (about $3.68 per share) looking to transform itself. It has about $12 million in cash and more than $658 million in debt. Buffett takes dying newspapers off of Media General's hands as it embarks on efforts to step into the digital century. Good luck.

Keep an eye on Lee Enterprises (LEE), and not because you should buy the stock. It's in a situation that's pretty similar to Media General. It loses money, but has even more debt - close to $1 billion worth.

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