For years, Warren Buffett has spoken of searching for an elephant of a transaction. Berkshire Hathaway’s(BRKA,BRKB) announcement today that it will be acquiring Burlington Northern Santa Fe(BNI) in a $44 Billion deal represents the final capture of an elephant that has been in Buffet’s sights for several years as Berkshire has consistently bought to acquire almost 22.6% of the company prior to today.
The deal will consist of 40% stock and 60% cash. That Buffett is paying with Berkshire stock says something interesting about his appraisial of Berkshire’s future prospects. Buffett has in the past lamented stock deals he’s done(in particular the General Re deal). Buffett stated that stock is included in this deal in order to provide tax free treatment for BNI shareholders. Using stock implies that Buffett believes that BNI will grow intrinsic value at a faster rate then the rest of Berkshire.
Also of note is that Berkshire will be splitting Class B shares 50-1 in order to be able to compensate even the smallest BNI shareholder in stock. Buffett has been notoriously resistant to splitting his stock. It will be interesting to see what impact this has on Berkshire. We believe it represents a significant step in Berkshire’s transition from an investment partnership run by Buffett to a global corporation that will thrive in a post-Buffett era. It is also likely that the split will pave the way for Berkshire’s addition to the S&P 500.
Disclosure: We own shares of Berkshire Hathaway