There aren't many investors out there who can afford to drop six figures all at once to make a single investment. However, if you're one who can, then there's one highly prestigious stock that offers both potential for gains and good value. And even if you don't have that kind of cash on hand, this company offers a cheaper option at less than $250 that might be the right one for you.
The stock is Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A 0.29%) (BRK.B 0.27%), and the explanation of the stock price stems from Warren Buffett's long reluctance to split its stock -- and the one time he did, he gave into pressure and offered a second class of less expensive shares to investors. Even as Buffett grows older, Berkshire's current price makes it attractive in many investors' eyes.
The background of Berkshire
Berkshire Hathaway is a holding company that owns many different subsidiaries. Its primary operations are in insurance, and the premiums that the insurance business collects provide Berkshire with a cash arsenal that it's historically deployed to buy stocks. Yet Berkshire also holds companies in a wide array of businesses, ranging from railroads and utilities to a real estate brokerage and a candy maker.
Buffett first bought Berkshire in the 1960s and transformed it from its origins as a textile company to the sprawling conglomerate it is today. Over time, smart investing and the power of compounding took what had once been a modest share price under $20 and grew it exponentially. Moreover, because Buffett didn't believe in doing stock splits, the price just kept rising -- so that today, it takes a little over $344,000 to purchase a single share of Berkshire's Class A stock.
Can a six-figure stock really be cheap?
A lot of investors look solely at share prices to decide whether a stock is expensive or not. Yet even though Berkshire has such a high price tag, the fact that each share represents such a large portion of the overall business makes Berkshire stock that much more valuable.
One common way that Buffett and his followers like to look at Berkshire stock is to compare its current share price with the book value of the assets and liabilities on its balance sheet. By that measure, the $344,000 price tag works out to about 1.4 times book value. That's not a screaming bargain by historical standards, but it's also not too far above levels at which the company chose in the past to do limited stock buybacks. Moreover, as other stocks in the market get more expensive, even a 1.4 price-to-book ratio starts to look more attractive by comparison.
How to get in on Berkshire for a lot less money
Fortunately for small investors who don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars lying around ready to invest, Berkshire Hathaway also has a second class of less expensive shares. You can generally pick up Class B Berkshire shares for around 1/1,500th of the price of the more expensive Class A shares, which works out to around $229 per share at current prices.
Berkshire initially issued Class B shares back in 1996 to give less wealthy investors a chance to buy shares. At the time, though, one Class B share represented 1/30th the value of a Class A share. Subsequently, the company went a step further, splitting those Class B shares in 2010 as part of the acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. All the while, though, Berkshire left its Class A shares untouched.
Is Berkshire past its prime?
Some investors point to the recent underperformance of Berkshire Hathaway as a sign that the company has lost its way. Buffett will turn 90 this year, and while the company has a succession plan in place, not everyone's comfortable with the track record of those likely to take over Berkshire's reins once Buffett moves on.
Nevertheless, Buffett has an impressive portfolio of wholly owned businesses and minority interests in lucrative stocks. With all that going for it and at a reasonable price to boot, Berkshire Hathaway's a good choice for anyone with $344,031, $229, or anywhere in between to invest.