Warren E. Buffett, the world's most successful investor, has long defended his decision to not split the stock of his company Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) - Get Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Class A Report , but in a sense, there has already been a split.
Let's examine how Berkshire Hathaway pursues long-term value enhancement.
As most investors know, Class A shares of Berkshire Hathaway don't come cheap, trading at more than $217,000 apiece.
And yet, by issuing Class B shares in 1996, (BRK.B) - Get Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Class B Report , Buffett has already indirectly split the shares. Class B shares of Berkshire Hathaway are a bargain proposition by his standards, costing about $145 each.
How can one Class A share cost investors the equivalent of a Lamborghini Huracan, while one Class B share amount to less than half the price of an Apple Watch?
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Although the cheaper Class B shares offer increased flexibility for investors and also provide a potential tax benefit, they also offer shareholders fewer voting rights.
Buffett has said that Class A shares will never be split because he thinks that high share prices attract like-minded investors who are focused on long-term profits as opposed to short-term price movements.
Berkshire Hathaway certainly offers a portfolio of great companies. It holds sizable stakes in companies such as American Express, AT&T, Bank of New York Mellon, Coca-Cola,Deere, Goldman Sachs,International Business Machines andMoody's, so there is no doubting why its Class A shares are steeply priced.
But with Class B shares, Berkshire Hathaway offers a way in for retail investors as they originally cost 1/13th of one Class A. Then, a 50-to-one stock split in 2010 sent the ratio to one-1,500th.
Now, the value of a Class B share is about 1/1452 of a Class A share.
Buffett argued that Class B shares would allow smaller investors to hold Berkshire Hathaway's stock directly instead of unit trusts and mutual funds being their only options.
Class A shares are costly, but selling just one could fetch a fairly large amount of money.
But owning Class B shares allows investors to pass them to heirs without eliciting the gift tax.
However, Class A shares can be converted into an equivalent amount of Class B shares at any time, as per the discretion of a Class A shareholder. Obviously, the conversion freedom doesn't exist in the reverse.
In fact, Class B shareholders can only convert their holdings to Class A by selling their Class B shares and then obtaining the equivalent in Class A shares.
So should Buffett split the Class A shares? It might not be a bad idea.
Apple raised eyebrows by splitting its stock 7-for-1, making the stock more accessible to a larger number of investors.
However, Buffett seems defiant on the stock-splitting front.
How would a split hurt Berkshire Hathaway if it ever goes down? In all fairness, that is a question only the Oracle of Omaha can answer.
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.