If you told Warren Buffett -- one of the richest men in the world -- that the best things in life are free, he'd probably agree with you.
After all, a recent SEC filing shows Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) welcomed 10.7 million free shares of General Electric (NYSE: GE ) into its coffers last Thursday, a bounty worth around $264 million based on last Wednesday's closing price of $24.68 per share.
Then again, though Berkshire didn't have to part with any cash for its new position, I suppose it wasn't entirely free. Remember, GE delivered the shares as part of Buffett's $3 billion preferred-share injection into the struggling conglomerate way back in 2008, when the company was essentially being crushed by the weight of its own soaring debt. To be sure, that move certainly required Buffett to assume at least some risk to prop up the century-old engineering titan.
However, you can also be sure Buffett didn't take this bet lightly, and anyone familiar with his investing savvy knows he was probably all too aware his chances of success were overwhelming. Remember, we're talking about a guy who once stated with regard to selecting his investments: "I like to shoot fish in a barrel. But I like to do it after the water has run out."
In any case, while GE has since repurchased those lucrative preferred shares, the agreement also included warrants for Berkshire to purchase $3 billion in common GE stock with a strike price of $22.25. Back in March, however, GE quietly revised the deal, giving Berkshire the option of simply swapping the gains on its warrants for an equity stake in the company. The end result, of course, was Berkshire's brand-new 10.7 million-share stake.
Haven't we been here before?
If you're wondering why this entire situation sounds familiar, remember earlier this month that a very similar deal came to fruition. Only then, it was Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) handing over a staggering $2.15 billion stake to Berkshire as part of its own 2008 bailout terms.
Also similar to GE, Goldman Sachs' deal -- which originally included warrants for Berkshire to buy $5 billion in common stock -- was renegotiated earlier this year to be swapped for an equity stake, all with no additional financial outlay on Berkshire's part.
Sure, Buffett's skeptics may step out to point out how his newly acquired GE position is paltry compared with what's needed to really move Berkshire Hathaway's massive needle. But it's funny how often these sorts of deals tend to repeatedly turn out in Buffett's favor, isn't it? Besides, you've got to admit it seems crazy when we can say $264 million amounts to a "mini"-payday.
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