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5 Warren Buffett Wisdoms on This Powerful Industry

Justin Loiseau
March 11, 2014

Source: HomeServices America. 

When Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett invests, the world watches. Such was the case with his acquisition of NV Energy (NYSE: NVE) last year -- a surprise move as most investors ignored utilities. In his latest shareholder letter, here are his five latest ideas on utilities.

1. "Though there are many regulatory restraints in the utility industry, it's possible that we will make additional commitments in the field. If we do, the amounts involved could be large." -- 1999 Annual Report 

Warren Buffett is wise enough to look to the past in his latest Berkshire Hathaway letter. Fifteen years ago, Warren Buffett was already eying the opportunity of NV Energy. That sort of long-term vision is exactly what makes utilities excellent investments for patient investors: Invest. Wait. Enjoy Dividend. Reap long-term profit. Repeat.

2. Each company [MidAmerican Energy and BNSF] has earning power that even under terrible economic conditions will far exceed its interest requirements. 

Utilities have drastically underperformed the S&P 500 over the past decade:

^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts. 

In the last five years (roughly the length of the recovery), the S&P 500 has gained 175%, compared to just 84% for the utilities. But share prices aren't always equivalent to value, and much of this sector's lag might be attributed to eager investors looking for big growth. Warren Buffett's better than that.

The oracle of Omaha points to "recession-resistant earnings" from utilities' "essential service" (electricity). And for MidAmerican and NV Energy, Buffett points out the added benefit of diverse earnings streams, shielding earnings from any overeager regulatory body.

3. Tangible proof of our dedication to that duty [to regulators and customers] was delivered last year in a poll of customer satisfaction covering 52 holding companies and their 101 operating electric utilities. Our MidAmerican group ranked number one... 

Source: NV Energy, Inc. 

Utilities aren't exactly consumer goods. Customers don't think about buying electricity the way they agonize over which smartphone to purchase. But Buffett hasn't forgotten that customers matter, and his MidAmerican group blew away the competition. Of its customers,  95.3% were "very satisfied" with his utilities' service, while not a single respondent said he or she was "dissatisfied."

And if you think customers simply don't care, consider the fact that the worst company earned a ridiculously rotten 34.5%.

4. When our current projects are completed, MidAmerican's renewables portfolio will have cost $15 billion. We relish making such commitments as long as they promise reasonable returns. And, on that front