It's always good idea to follow what the best investors are putting their money into, and there are probably no two more intriguing names right now in Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-B ) Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, the successors-in-waiting to the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett. From recent filings, we can see that they are betting big on two media companies: Viacom (NASDAQ: VIAB ) and Liberty Media (NASDAQ: LMCA ) .
Betting on Liberty's holdings
Liberty Media has been a Berkshire holding for a while, and the company has earned good returns from its investment. Berkshire owns slightly above 5% of Liberty Media shares, which amounts to $775 million, an investment likely made by Ted Weschler, as he owns shares of Liberty Media under his name according to Liberty's 13G filing. However, Berkshire did trim its stake in Liberty Media by a modest 5% in the last quarter and recorded some gains.
The media holding company under the stewardship of John Malone recently decided to break-up its stock into two tracking stocks -- Liberty Media Group and Liberty Broadband Group. And this creation has been well received by the market: the company stock price shot up 7%, as investors expect the discount to net asset value to shrink from current levels after the stock splits.
Liberty will not be pursuing its plans to fully own Sirius XM, but will be raising cash for consolidating the cable industry through the offering of subscription rights to Liberty Broadband Group shareholders. The company will be utilizing the cash to help Charter Communications expand and grow its customer base and revenues. And the company's Liberty Media Group will be benefiting from share repurchases of its major holding, Sirius XM, which has $2.2 billion in authorized shares to repurchase including $340 million from Liberty.
John Malone's Liberty has always utilized complex financial structures for making deals and creating value for shareholders. And this recent move will benefit believers in the company, thanks to cable consolidation, share repurchases, and the acquisition of subscription rights to own the tracking stock of the Broadband Group at a 20% discount to its 20 day volume-weighted average trading price.
Big share repurchases at Viacom
Buffett has always been a vocal proponent of share buybacks of companies with rock-solid businesses, adequate financial resources and a stock price at a discount to intrinsic value. And Viacom meets all three of these factors, making it a company that will generate a lot of value for shareholders through share repurchases.
The company's highly valued entertainment content is broadcast to more than 160 countries and reaches more than 700 million households. Viacom's media line-up of MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, VH1, Nick Jr., etc., are a must-have more than the line-ups of most cable providers, and its film studio, Paramount, produces high-quality films as well.
And Viacom still has $8.87 billion left from its share buyback program yet to be executed. As the company will be repurchasing what amounts to roughly 23% of its outstanding market cap, the stock price of Viacom will go higher over time. And the market certainly agrees with Berkshire Hathaway, as the shares of Viacom are sitting near 52 week highs.
The key takeaway
It's never a good idea to follow marquee investors blindly. But investors should get an idea of how experts like Buffett and his investment managers are thinking. Berkshire's investment bets in the media space demonstrate the company's belief in leveraged share repurchases, as both Liberty Media and Viacom are buying back a lot of shares by adding debt to their balance sheets. As a result, the insurance giant will benefit from its media holdings in the long-run.