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Weil on Finance: Berkshire Pay a Dividend?

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Berkshire Hathaway will start paying a dividend after the University of Nebraska admits that the “N” on its football team’s helmets stands for “Knowledge.”

Citing a shareholder proposal that urges the company’s board to pay a dividend, Stephen Foley of the Financial Times writes that “the question of if and when Berkshire should pay a dividend is coming into focus” as the company’s annual meeting approaches. But seriously, it’s inconceivable that Berkshire will pay a dividend as long as Warren Buffett is in charge. Can you imagine Buffett telling Berkshire investors that they have better ideas for how to invest the company’s cash than he does?

Maybe this will spur the feds into finally taking action against Credit Suisse.

It has been about three years since Credit Suisse received a target letter in connection with the Justice Department’s investigation of its tax-evasion services for U.S. clients. Now Ben Protess and Alexandra Stevenson of the New York Times report that Ben Lawsky, the top state banking regulator in New York, is starting his own investigation into Credit Suisse. And he has a track record of showing up federal regulators and prosecutors when they’re too slow to act.

Reaching for yield works until it doesn’t.

David Merkel, who runs the Aleph Blog, is always worth a read: “Be wary in this environment. So many are reaching for yield amid a weak economy with yields that are low relative to past trends. But also be aware that a rising stock market can support the corporate bond market. That has worked for the last two years, but it can’t work forever.”

Investors’ appetite for initial public offerings seems to be waning.

Joshua Brown at the Reformed Broker points to the Renaissance IPO exchange-traded fund launched last October (with the ticker symbol “IPO”), which buys newly minted stocks and holds them for two years. “This past week, the IPO ETF slashed below its 50-day moving average, but it’s held the lows of this past February’s sell-off so far,” he writes. “More ominously, IPO’s relative strength index took out its lows from earlier this year, a sign that momentum is actually getting worse than price would indicate in and of itself.” It’s down 8 percent in the past month, while the S&P 500 total return index is little changed: “Every cycle ends the same way. Eventually, the sheep stop bleating, the cows stop lowing and the ducks aren’t quacking quite so enthusiastically. Eventually supply catches up with demand and then overwhelms it. No one waves a sign or rings a bell, it’s just a process that some people recognize as being underway faster than others -– and there are always false alarms.”

Private-equity firms inflate their fees? Who knew?

The SEC seems to have discovered an open secret, but it isn’t going on the record with its findings just yet. From Bloomberg News reporter Alan Katz: “A majority of private-equity firms inflate fees and expenses charged to companies in which they hold stakes, according to an internal review by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, raising the prospect of a wave of sanctions by the agency. More than half of about 400 private-equity firms that SEC staff have examined have charged unjustified fees and expenses without notifying investors, according to a person with knowledge of the SEC’s findings who asked not to be named because the results aren’t public.”

What happened to the “public” in public accounting firms?

If you can’t trust a company’s auditor, you might not be able to trust the company’s numbers. And that’s why it’s important when the Big Four accounting firms act like they care more about expanding their management-consulting practices than they do about audit quality. Bloomberg’s Rob Schmidt and Dave Michaels explain why there’s reason to be concerned that they’re taking their eye off the ball again, just as they did during the 1990s before Enron and WorldCom blew up. I like this quote from Paul Miller, a professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs: “If they wanted to be entrepreneurs, they should have gone into a different business.”

Heck, sometimes they can’t even spell their names right.

From the Wall Street Journal’s Justin Lahart, noting the research of two Notre Dame professors who found multiple instances of big accounting firms misspelling their own names in audit reports on companies’ financial statements: “Deloitte & Touche has variously signed its name `Deliote & Touche,’ `Deloitte & Touch,’ `Deloite Touche’ and `Deloitee & Touche.’ PricewaterhouseCoopers has had `PricewaerhouseCoopers,’ `PricewaterhousCoopers’ and `PricewaterhouseCooper.’ None of which seems quite as bad as when one of its predecessor firms, Coopers & Lybrand, signed off as `Coopers & Lyband.’”

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Weil at jweil6@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net.

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