Since Warren Buffett released his latest annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A)(NYSE:BRK-B) shareholders a few weeks ago, we've not only been happily inundated with torrents of new investing wisdom, but also received a fresh look at the incredible business he built.
By detailing two small real estate investments he made more than 20 years ago, for example, Buffett reiterated, "you don't need to be an expert in order to achieve satisfactory investment returns."
We also learned he's surprisingly bullish on Bank of America over the long term, received details on the $77.2 billion insurance float he gets to invest for free, and were treated to dozens of insightful new quotes covering everything from the folly of panic selling to Berkshire's joint acquisition of Heinz last summer.
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However, one crucial topic has garnered surprisingly little attention: Berkshire's smaller bolt-on acquisitions.
Here's what Buffett had to say:
While Charlie and I search for elephants, our many subsidiaries are regularly making bolt-on acquisitions. Last year, we contracted for 25 of these, scheduled to cost $3.1 billion in aggregate. These transactions ranged from $1.9 million to $1.1 billion in size.
In case you're wondering, that $1.1 billion buy was a likely reference to Berkshire's late-2013 acquisition of IMI's beverage dispenser business through Marmon. On average, that means each of Berkshire's remaining 24 acquisitions cost a comparatively minuscule $83.3 million.
Buffett went on to elaborate:
Charlie and I encourage these deals. They deploy capital in activities that fit with our existing businesses and that will be managed by our corps of expert managers. The result is no more work for us and more earnings for you. Many more of these bolt-on deals will be made in future years. In aggregate, they will be meaningful.
Call me crazy, but I think it's remarkable any company can quietly spend more than $3 billion to absorb dozens of businesses over the course of a single year. Sure, it's only equivalent to roughly 1% of Berkshire Hathaway's current $303 billion market capitalization, but these little guys add up.
If this all sounds familiar, it's because Buffett wrote almost exactly the same thing in last year's letter. Only then, Berkshire had just finished spending around $2.3 billion to acquire 26 companies -- good for an average purchase price of $88.5 million.
Over the last two years, that makes $5.4 billion Berkshire Hathaway has spent snapping up smaller companies to grow its own empire.
And why not? While the "elephants" that meet Buffett's standards are few and far between, you can bet there are hundreds of satisfactory smaller targets just ripe for the picking.
Perhaps best of all -- in keeping with Buffett's long-held acquisition practices -- these companies can be sure they'll have a home with Berkshire Hathaway for as long as it exists.
In the business world, that's as close to "forever" as anyone can get.