While Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.A - Get Report) is known for investments in companies such as Geico, Dairy Queen, Coca Cola Co. (KO - Get Report) and Bank of America Corp. (BAC - Get Report) , Buffett has quietly become something of a newspaper baron.
Berkshire Hathaway owns more than 30 daily newspapers, even though Buffett has said that among U.S. papers only the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have an "assured future." (He does not own either paper). After a few years of owning a newspaper portfolio, Buffett acknowledged to USA Today last year that he had not "cracked the code" of making the transition to digital.
Starting with the Omaha World-Herald, his hometown paper, in late 2011, Berkshire Hathaway spent close to $350 million buying newspapers in a 15-month period. In the company's 2012 annual report, Buffett told investors that "circulation, advertising and profits of the newspaper industry overall are certain to decline." You hardly have to be an oracle to realize that.
Berkshire's BH Media targets papers that are the top local news source in their respective markets. The largest is the Buffalo News, with a daily circulation of 116,000 at the end of 2016, down from nearly 143,000 in 2012.
The businesses are minuscule compared to Berkshire Hathaway's typical investments. BH Media's web site notes that the Press of Atlantic City has a daily circulation of just over 36,000. Still, it "reaches more adults than any other media in Southern New Jersey," the web site said.
Buffett knew what he was getting into when he started buying newspapers, having sat on the board of the former Washington Post Co. for 37 years. He stepped down from the board in 2011, shortly before Berkshire Hathaway would announce the purchase of the Omaha World-Herald.
It can't be a bad sign for Berkshire Hathaway that an entrepreneur of Bezos' caliber has put money into newspapers. (Bezos owns the Washington Post as an individual investment; it is not part of Amazon). If Buffett still can't crack the code in a few years, maybe he can sell the business to the Amazon founder, who along with Buffett is one of the wealthiest men in the country.
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