Warren Buffett, the billionaire chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A), is entrusting more of his company’s investments to deputy stock pickers as he prepares the firm for his eventual departure.
Ted Weschler and Todd Combs, former hedge-fund managers hired in the past two years, will probably oversee about $4 billion apiece for Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire, Buffett said in a July 13 interview with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop.” Each oversaw about $2.75 billion at the beginning of the year, he said.
“They have terrific talent,” Buffett said. “I feel very, very, very good about where we are now versus a few years ago in terms of successor investment management.”
Buffett, 81, has been readying a new generation of leaders as he prepares to hand over control of the company that he built over four decades through acquisitions and stock picks. Berkshire has ceded more money to Weschler, 51, and Combs, 41, and given them authority to manage the funds “exactly as they see fit,” he said. The two will oversee company investments after the billionaire’s departure.
Buffett “has to assure himself and the firm that these people have the ability to deliver when he’s gone,” said Thomas Russo, a partner at Berkshire investor Gardner Russo & Gardner. “If the experience is now just simply vetted trades that Warren would have done anyway, we haven’t moved the needle.”
The largest investments in Berkshire’s $89.1 billion stock portfolio are still overseen by Buffett, who accumulated the biggest holdings in companies including Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), Coca- Cola Co. and American Express Co. (AXP) Combs and Weschler’s investments typically won’t exceed $1 billion, Buffett said.
Berkshire has added shares of firms including MasterCard Inc. (MA) and DaVita Inc. (DVA) in the past six quarters that are valued at less than that sum. Before joining Buffett’s company, Combs invested in MasterCard at Castle Point Capital Management LLC, while DaVita was among holdings at Weschler’s Peninsula Capital Advisors LLC. Both stocks climbed since Berkshire bought them.
Buffett said he wasn’t responsible for Berkshire’s new stake of 10 million shares of General Motors Co. (GM) in the first quarter and declined to say which deputy made the investment. Most of the stock was accumulated at an average price of $24.35 through Feb. 3, regulatory filings show. The automaker has slumped 19 percent from that level to close at $19.62 last week.
Buffett is seeking to pay Weschler and Combs for long-term performance. They each earn a salary of $1 million as well as 10 percent of the amount by which their portfolios outperform the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index on a three-year rolling basis, the billionaire said at Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting in May. Part of each manager’s pay is based on the other’s performance so they have an incentive to collaborate, he said.
“They run their portfolios,” Buffett told Liu. “I can’t hold them responsible for what they do unless I give them the authority within that total block of money.”
The investment managers don’t help Buffett decide what companies to acquire, he said last week. Weschler was involved this year with Berkshire’s bid for a loan portfolio and mortgage assets of bankrupt lender Residential Capital LLC.
Weschler and Combs won’t have difficulty purchasing stocks with the additional funds, said Peter Rup, chief investment officer at New York-based Artemis Wealth Advisors LLC, which invests in hedge funds. Opportunities exist for money managers who can select stocks for the longer term and understand the target companies, he said.
“I would imagine that these guys are finding a lot of value,” Rup said. “They could easily deploy an extra billion” dollars by adding to holdings or finding new investments.
Buffett, who is also Berkshire’s largest shareholder, has said his roles will be divided when he leaves the firm. The board has selected the next CEO and has two backups, the billionaire said in February, without identifying any of the individuals. Buffett has said that his son Howard Buffett, a Berkshire director since 1993, would make a good non-executive chairman.
Peter Grauer, chairman of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has served on DaVita’s board since 1994.
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