3 Candidates for the Dow: Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, and AIG

Should these stocks replace their industry counterparts in the Dow Jones Industrials?

May 10, 2014 at 11:05AM
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The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) include 30 of the best-known and most influential companies in the U.S. economy. Drawn from nearly every industry, the Dow 30 represent the cream of the crop of American business. But inevitably, for a variety of reasons, some companies get left out. Now, though, many of the obstacles that once made adding Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B), and American International Group (NYSE:AIG) virtually impossible have vanished, making them much more realistic Dow candidates. Let's look at the arguments for each.

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Bigger is better
It's hard to dispute Apple's credentials to become a Dow component, as the tech giant is the largest company in the U.S. stock market and has dominated the tech scene for more than a decade. But having missed the opportunity to add Apple in the early 2000s, when its stock price was temporarily depressed, the Dow found it impractical to consider allowing Apple into the price-weighted average once its share price soared well into the triple digits. At nearly $600 per share, Apple would have a ridiculously disproportionate influence on the overall Dow.

But with Apple's imminent 7-for-1 split coming in less than a month, its share price will almost certainly fall below $100 for the first time since the financial crisis. That would give the Dow a long-awaited chance to remedy Apple's long absence from the average.

Betting on Buffett's B shares
Similarly, Berkshire Hathaway represents the largest conglomerate in the U.S., with a market capitalization that's surpassed by only a handful of even more massive companies. Yet despite its influence over the investing world, Berkshire's shares spent most of their existence being far too expensive for the Dow to consider. Even when Buffett provided Class B shares in the mid-1990s in order to facilitate shareholder gifts and avoid Berkshire-tracking unit trusts, their price exceeded $1,000 per share.

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When Berkshire bought Burlington Northern in 2010, though, it split its B shares 50-for-1, cutting their price to just $70 to $80 per share. That prompted what's now S&P Dow Indices to add the stock to the S&P 500, yet it didn't lead to an invitation to join the Dow. Four years later, Buffett's company is no less deserving, but in the end, Berkshire's combination of transportation and utility companies as well as its core insurance operations could continue to keep it out of the Dow.

Should AIG get its spot back?
Finally, American International Group is the only company of the three that has actually been a Dow component in the past. AIG joined the Dow in 2004 but was dismissed four years later in the middle of the financial crisis. With its shares having lost 98% of their value, many at the time believed that AIG would be a casualty of the market meltdown.

Yet now, AIG has not only survived but thrived, with a reverse share split having boosted its stock price back into reasonable territory. As a pure insurance play, AIG has a market cap that's more than double the current representative of the insurance industry within the Dow Jones Industrials. It stands to reason that the committee governing Dow selections would be shy after having let AIG bite them once, but given the success of its recovery and the scope of its business, AIG would be a worthy component in the Dow.

Apple's split might serve as a catalyst for one or more of these moves, but don't expect rapid action. Unlike other indexes, the Dow is often slow to take action even when the stars line up exactly right -- and by the time they get around to considering changes more seriously, share prices might once more have moved out of the acceptable range for Dow components.

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Dan Caplinger owns warrants on AIG and shares of Apple and Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool recommends AIG, Apple, and Berkshire Hathaway; owns shares of AIG, Apple, and Berkshire Hathaway; and has options on AIG. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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