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Why Does This Little Newspaper Company Own So Much Wells Fargo and Bank of America Stock?

By John Maxfield – Feb 15, 2016 at 4:43PM

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The answer will be clear when you learn who the company's chairman is.

Bank stocks make up an outsized portion of the Daily Journal's assets. Image credit: iStock/Thinkstock.

The Daily Journal Corporation (DJCO 4.66%) does three things: publishes newspapers, sells software to lawyers, and owns bank stocks.

But the Daily Journal doesn't just invest in bank stocks on the side; they account for the majority of its assets. Its holdings of Bank of America (BAC 1.44%), Wells Fargo (WFC 1.94%), and US Bancorp (USB 1.55%) make up 55% of its total assets.

Data source: The Daily Journal's regulatory filings.

Why would a newspaper company invest its liquid net worth in shares of Bank of America and Wells Fargo? Doesn't it have better things to do with its money?

The answer is clear when you consider that the Daily Journal's chairman is none other than Charlie Munger, who also happens to be the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett's longtime right-hand man. As you may recall, Berkshire Hathaway has its own substantial positions in these banks. Its 470 million shares of Wells Fargo make Berkshire the bank's single largest owner.

Given this, it probably won't surprise you to hear that the Daily Journal's positions in Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and US Bancorp date back to the financial crisis. It paid a mere $8 a share for Wells Fargo in 2009. They have since increased in value by a factor of six. The move was almost identical in this regard to Berkshire's decision to invest in Wells Fargo during the early 1990s, as Munger explained at the Daily Journal's recent shareholder meeting:

When Berkshire bought Wells Fargo, the world was unglued in real estate lending-driven banking panic. We knew their bank lending officers weren't ordinary. They grew up in the garment district as cynics and were careful and better [than others]. This was an information advantage that we had that Wells Fargo had this special capacity. When DJCO bought into Wells Fargo at $8, we knew the bankers were more rational than ordinary bankers. No one should buy a bank without a feeling for how shrewd management is. It is easy to delude yourself into thinking things, as it is very easy to hide the real numbers. Don't invest in banks without real knowledge.

In sum, the reason that the Daily Journal owns so many shares of Bank of America and Wells Fargo is that it was able to pick them up for steep discounts at the nadir of the financial crisis. And when you add to this Wells Fargo's superior prudence and efficiency, it's hard to argue with Munger's logic.

John Maxfield owns shares of Bank of America. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool has the following options: short March 2016 $52 puts on Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Bank of America Corporation Stock Quote
Bank of America Corporation
$31.01 (1.44%) $0.44
Wells Fargo & Company Stock Quote
Wells Fargo & Company
$40.80 (1.94%) $0.78
Daily Journal Corporation Stock Quote
Daily Journal Corporation
$247.00 (4.66%) $10.99
U.S. Bancorp Stock Quote
U.S. Bancorp
$41.59 (1.55%) $0.64

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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