OMAHA, Neb. (
) -- Last week was a busy one for
. On Friday, Feb. 12, Berkshire finally closed on its acquisition of
The first week of February had been a bit of a downer for the Oracle of Omaha, as
Berkshire Hathaway lost its last remaining AAA rating.
However, by Tuesday of last week, Buffett had recovered, even mustering the good cheer to play the capital markets equivalent of Oprah, sitting down for a video one-on-one chat with former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson that covered topics from TARP to bonuses and, of course, plugging Paulson's new book on the financial crisis,
On the Brink
Buffett may have seemed on the brink of serving as little more than a publicity vehicle for Paulson's book tour when he interviewed the former Fed chief at a meeting of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. However, Buffett is usually one step ahead of the rest of us: he may just be angling for Jay Leno or Oprah's seat, and using Paulson to prove himself as the coming savior of network television, having already saved the U.S. economy.
One can be sure that middle America would tune in -- during day-time talk or late night television -- for some sage, grandfatherly advice from Buffett. Dare we say:
The S&P 500, at least, was saying "Here's Warren!' at week's end. On Friday of last week,
the historic, much-anticipated marriage of Berkshire Hathaway and the S&P 500 Index took place, concurrent with former S&P holding Burlington Northern being folded within Berkshire Hathaway.
There has been so much Berkshire Hathaway news of late, from the S&P 500 inclusion to the related stock split in the Berkshire Hathaway B shares and the related acquisition of Burlington Northern from which it all stems, that Buffett burnout is not hard to imagine among readers -- and even some not-to-be-named financial journalists.
However, it's just when we think Buffett is going into a quiet period that he gives the market a reminder of what a force he is. That force isn't going away any time soon, either: Buffett was not only recently caught on film with Paulson, but also filmed a video for employees of his operating subsidiary
, a livestock company, saying to CBT employees that Buffett looked forward to celebrating his 100th birthday with them in 2030.
Last Friday, at the tender age of 80, Buffett reminded the markets of what a force he continues to be
as Berkshire Hathaway revealed in a regulatory filing that it had become the
largest shareholder in reinsurer Munich Re. Berkshire's 5% stake supplanted money manager
from the top spot among Munich Re shareholders. Berkshire Hathaway also owns the rights to an additional 2% in Munich Re options, which can bring its stake up to 7% by mid-March.
In the spirit of Buffett's staying power and shrewdness, and as Berkshire Hathaway transitioned on the same day from closing its deal for Burlington Northern to making a big move into MunichRe, we asked readers of
, "Do you think Buffett is done making 'all-in wagers' after Burlington? Or does his M&A sweet tooth still crave M&Ms?"
In other words, would Buffett stun the markets again with a deal for privately held candy maker
In retrospect, maybe we should have asked if a reinsurer like MunichRe would be the next all-in wager made by Buffett (and maybe we will ask that question yet).
After all, Berkshire Hathaway's investment in Burlington Northern began as an 11% stake in April 2007, which Buffett then upped to above 15% in October 2007, before announcing plans to acquire the whole darn railroad late in the fall of 2009. Reinsurers, like railroads, are the kind of predictable companies that Buffett knows well, too. MunichRe brass was speaking publicly on Friday, saying they don't see the investment as the opening move in a hostile bid by Buffettt.
Still, there is good reason to speculate on an all-in wager by Warren Buffet in the candy sector. Buffett has a way of making an M&A move that seems significant -- but not game-changing -- as the initial investment in Burlington Northern indicates.
In April 2008, when Mars bought
Wm. Wrigley Jr.
for $23 billion, the deal was backed by a $2 billion equity position in Wrigley by Berkshire Hathaway. Speaking of industries that Buffett knows well and has already shown a predilection for, Berkshire Hathaway already owns San Francisco-based
While Buffett usually moves alone in M&A deals, at the time of the stake in the Mars-Wrigley transaction, market watchers noted that Buffett may have been taking the first steps in making a long-term overture to privately held Mars.
What's more, at the time of the Mars-Wrigley deal, the same M&A rumor mill was running rampant with speculation that
was a likely target for a company like
. It has taken close to two years for the Kraft/Cadbury rumor to come true, so we asked
readers if it would just be another year or two before Mars is the latest operating subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway?
The survey respondents think Buffett does have a sweet spot for Mars. Approximately 54% of poll voters believe Berkshire Hathaway will eventually acquire Mars. Long-time Berkshire investors have said the deal could make sense from both sides.
The Mars family can probably find no better investment vehicle in which to diversify their concentrated wealth than Berkshire Hathaway, so from a succession-planning and estate-planning perspective, a deal with Buffett could make sense.
For Buffett, Mars is just the kind of big, respected brand in a market niche he understands that has typically caught his investing fancy.
A significant percentage of survey takers, however, don't see M&Ms and Snickers becoming Omaha-based brands carried to market by Burlington Northern freight cars. Approximately 41% of survey respondents think that the acquisition of Burlington Northern will be the crowning M&A achievement of Buffett's career -- basically meaning that they think Buffett is done with wheeling and dealing.
Another 5% of survey takers think Buffett is far from done dealing -- but, as far as future targets of Berkshire Hathaway M&A, they find the prospects of a deal for Mars to be as distant as the planet itself.
-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.
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