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If you had 11 fingers, you could count the number of AAA-rated corporate borrowers on one hand. There were actually only five such companies until Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) landed the top rating last week upon announcing a recapitalization.
General Electric (NYSE: GE ) does not take its top credit rating lightly. Facing a financial windstorm, the company has battened down the hatches. The share buyback is suspended. GE Capital's dividend to the corporate parent is being cut from 40% to 10% of earnings. The division's commercial paper program is also being curtailed.
Mr. Market hasn't responded enthusiastically to these moves, but Mr. Buffett has. Warren Buffett's own Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) sports the fabled AAA rating, and the Oracle of Omaha knows that it doesn't come easy. He's a believer in GE, and he's stepped in today with a sizable investment in the blue-chip behemoth.
Berkshire is again buying "perpetual" preferred stock, yielding a fat 10% dividend. However, this is callable at a 10% premium after three years. The company also gets five-year warrants to buy $3 billion worth of GE shares at $22.25 each, about a 10% discount to the price as I write these words.
Fools, these purchases by Buffett are not symbolic. The man is not simply demonstrating good faith in the American economy. He is out to make massive returns for his shareholders.
As a small investor, you can't make investments with as many perks attached. But you can buy big winners that are far too small to move the needle at a giant like Berkshire Hathaway. And the bargains are bountiful out there. Here are five of my top picks to get you started.