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Berkshire Halftime Report: Amazon, Insurance, and Succession

Joshua Aguilar
Karen Wallace, CFP®

Karen Wallace: I'm Karen Wallace for Morningstar. I'm at the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders' meeting. It's about halfway through the meeting, and we're taking a lunch break. I'm here with equity analyst Josh Aguilar. Josh, what's your take so far on the meeting?  

Josh Aguilar: Yeah, it's been actually interesting. One thing we were able to actually hear about was the purchase in Amazon. So, the question was really raised, is Berkshire Hathaway changing its investment style? I think Buffett has made a very clear point that really, there's no difference between growth and value. They think about the same thing. It all goes back to Aesop's fable of a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. So all intelligent investing is looking at it that way. There's a lot of components of it. We don't look at growth of value separately and I think that's gonna continue, even with Todd and Ted, in the future.  

Wallace: So you touch on Todd and Ted. There were some questions about succession planning. Can we talk a little bit about that?  

Aguilar: Yeah, that's great. Actually we were able to actually get some insight from Ajit that illuminates their relationship, Warren's and Ajit's relationship. Regularly you'd see that Ajit and Warren talk every night. And so the question was raised about pricing unconventional insurance contracts. And one thing that's really interesting is really, it's more art than science. You look at historical information. But really the key insight I thought was how attracting key talent is critical. There's nothing you can teach [Ajit] about pricing unconventional contracts and I think he's been a great add to Berkshire and is gonna be a great legacy addition in terms of just the insurance operations.  

Wallace: Another question that came up about the insurance operations is how they value the insurance operations. That was kind of an interesting response. Can you give your take on that?  

Aguilar: Yeah, so it's interesting. Berkshire actually doesn't disclose the book value of insurance equity so usually when we're looking at insurance operators, that's how we, just multiple to book. And so that's not disclosed, so really Buffett did a good job explaining how they think about floats. These are the premiums you don't have to pay out for many, many years and how that's allowed them to really invest at really high rates of return. And at Geico, they're the low-cost producer and that's really one of the moats that we look at is cost advantage. And so it was insightful information and it was a good way to kind of think about how the business going forward is valued.

Wallace: Do you have any wrapping up thoughts so far, now that we're halfway through the meeting?  

Aguilar: Yeah, I think what'll be interesting is we could see Greg and Ajit in the future. They're obviously taking a much more active role and you're seeing a smoother transition and you're getting a taste of what the culture is like going forward. We're not expecting huge changes in that sense and I think that's the biggest takeaway.  

Wallace: All right, thanks a lot. For Morningstar, I'm Karen Wallace.