Warren Buffett has long liked the consistency of energy stocks, but he's stepped up his energy buying in 2013. He bought a $3.5 billion stake in ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) in the second half of this year and agreed to pay $5.6 billion to buy utility NV Energy in May.
Last night, it was announced that Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B) would use about 19 million of its long-held shares of Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) to acquire a unit of that energy company that makes chemicals to improve the flow of pipelines. The unit will essentially be folded into Lubrizol, which was another Berkshire acquisition in 2011.
Buffett said that "the flow improver business is a high-quality business with consistently strong financial performance." That sounds a lot like a Buffett business to me.
A new way to play energy
Buying energy isn't just about buying big oil or utilities, like Buffett did with ExxonMobil and NV Energy. There's ways to profit from products energy needs as well.
In recent years, the oil and natural gas pipeline business has become just as important as exploration and production because it makes recovered oil economical. New shale plays in North Dakota, Texas, and elsewhere have resulted in a surge in pipeline building and stress on some of the existing infrastructure. Creating products that help energy flow through pipelines is the bet here as the need for pipelines isn't going anywhere soon.
You could say the same for Berkshire's acquisition of Burlington Northern in 2009. That's not an energy company, but a large portion of its business involves moving coal and even oil around the country. Buffett was using the need for energy to his advantage in that purchase as well.