Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRK) recent announcement that it was buying railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNI) also included a provision for a 50-for-1 stock split of B shares so that smaller shareholders of BNI would be able to be converted to Berkshire shares and avoid capital gains. Warren Buffett has been trying to avoid this for years, so after some random web surfing — I mean… research, I figured I’d share my findings.
At the end of trading yesterday 11/18, Berkshire’s A shares currently cost $103,100 apiece and B shares were $3,430. After a 50-to-1 split, a B share would cost about $69. Several news articles are talking about how this brings the share price down to the “common man”. For a $69 investment, you should able to attend the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting in Omaha this May, although you could also buy tickets for $5 on eBay directly from BRK.
But wait, you may already own a piece of Berkshire… or you may soon.
Right now, Berkshire Hathaway is not part of the S&P 500. Many folks (including me in the past) thought the S&P 500 was simply the largest 500 companies in the US, but not quite. I’ve read that BRK is likely excluded due to inadequate trading volume of their high-priced shares. If the stock split occurs, it is possible that BRK will become part of the S&P 500 and thus be bought by every S&P 500 index fund out there. I’m sure Wall Street traders have already begun the speculating.
As of 1/18, the market cap of BRK was roughly $160 Billion. Looking at this chart of S&P 500 components sorted by size, BRK would actually be #9 on that list, as it is worth more than even Chevron or AT&T. If included, BRK would constitute about 1.65% of the index.
Total Stock Market
However, you may already own a piece of Berkshire if you own part of a mutual fund that tracks an index following the “total” US stock market. For example there’s the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX), which is held within all of the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds. By my rough calculations, BRK is approximately 1.3% of the broad US market. So for every $10,000 of VTSMX or VTI you hold, you own $130 of BRK already.
Of course, for years now you could own $1 or $50 or $500 of BRKB by buying partial shares of BRKB through Sharebuilder ($50 bonus). You wouldn’t want to go too small as the $1 to $4 commission would take too big a bite, but it can be one way to gradually accumulate BRK shares. I think I have about $45 worth right now, myself, mainly due to an opening bonus.
By Jonathan Ping | Investing | 11/18/09, 5:01am