Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren Buffett said the company will buy more auto dealerships, regardless of the interest-rate outlook, in part because the price of entry is reasonably predictable.
If Federal Reserve Chairman “Janet Yellen came up and whispered into my ear what she was going to do for the next two years, it wouldn’t make a difference what we’d do,” he said Tuesday in New York at the 2015 Automotive Forum held by J.D. Power and the National Automobile Dealers Association. “We don’t want to get out of the game based on what we think somebody might do.”
Buffett, who has said auto sales have rebounded faster than he expected, this month completed the purchase of Van Tuyl Group, the largest closely held U.S. car-dealership group. The billionaire wrote in his annual letter to shareholders that Berkshire plans to build its vehicle-retailing business with more acquisitions.
Consumers in the U.S. bought about 16.5 million cars and light trucks last year, according to researcher Autodata Corp., the most since 2006. Annual auto sales are on track to exceed 16 million for the second year in a row, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
With a healthy auto industry, dealerships remain an attractive investment with well-understood economics.
“The prices are fairly well established in the industry,” Buffett said. “You’re not talking biotech or something you can dream of this or that. You can look at the operation and see what they’re doing and see what their competition is. You can guess within 5 to 10 percent what the eventual price is going to be when you’re looking at any dealership, whether we make the deal or not.”
Buffett’s company also owns General Motors Co. stock, with 41 million shares at the end of 2014. The stake is overseen by Ted Weschler, one of the two investing deputies Buffett, 84, picked to help manage stocks and eventually run Berkshire’s entire portfolio.
Berkshire first disclosed a stake of 10 million shares in early 2012. Most of that holding was purchased at an average price of $24.35, according to National Association of Insurance Commissioners data compiled by Bloomberg. While GM rallied to $40.87 at the end of 2013, the stock slumped 15 percent last year, weighing on Berkshire’s returns.
Berkshire fell 0.9 percent to $217,800 at 2:47 p.m. in New York. The Omaha, Nebraska-based company gained 27 percent in 2014 and slipped 2.8 percent this year through Monday.