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Mailbag: Did Warren Buffett Get a Private Peek at Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Books?

By Motley Fool Staff - Feb 26, 2016 at 7:20AM

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Answering a question from the Industry Focus mailbox, the energy team discusses Warren Buffett's approach to buying a company and what probably went into the recent purchase of Kinder Morgan.

Last week, it was made public that Warren Buffett bought a few million shares of Kinder Morgan (KMI 1.48%), causing a sizable pop in the company's stock.

In this clip, Sean O'Reilly, Taylor Muckerman, and Tyler Crowe dip into the listener mailbag to talk about what information Buffet probably looked at before the buy and how much of it was available publicly versus under the table. Also, the team talks about the big-picture issues Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A 3.75%) (BRK.B 4.02%) looks for before buying a company and how it differs from most buyout concerns.

A transcript follows the video.

This podcast was recorded on Feb. 18, 2016. 

Sean O'Reilly: We have that loyal listener that wrote in a couple times before, Leland Paine down there in Texas, he actually wrote in about this. He said, "Sean, today we learned that Berkshire Hathaway acquired millions of KMI shares, and the stock price closed up 11%," although the jump in oil probably helped, too. He had a couple questions -- first up was, "Did Buffett get a special look at the books?" What do you think about that, Taylor?

Taylor Muckerman: Um, I don't know what other... maybe, just a more microscopic look. But, I mean, everyone gets access to balance sheets...

O'Reilly: From what I know about Buffett, he just reads annual reports, he doesn't do anything special.

Muckerman: Yeah. If he does, he keeps that to himself. But I wouldn't imagine that... a company like Kinder Morgan, like, whatever.

O'Reilly: Yeah. I have to imagine he's hung out with Richard Kinder or something, though. Like, he knows all these guys.

Muckerman: If they didn't disclose as much as they do disclose, like ...

O'Reilly: Right.

Muckerman: If there was a company, a small cap, that only released the bare bones of their financial statements, maybe he gets in there and chats with the CFO. But I think everything there is to know about Kinder Morgan is out there, it's just whether or not you can understand it.

O'Reilly: Right.

Tyler Crowe: So, when we were down in Houston, actually, and I got to sit down with Clay Williams over at National Oilwell Varco, he was actually talking about the process of Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway buying a company...

O'Reilly: Really?!

Crowe:... with us. Like, some of the things that they did looking at it as an investment.

O'Reilly: Because they sell him pipelines, or, what did they do?

Crowe: No, it was...

O'Reilly: Just in general, yeah.

Crowe: Because, Berkshire did have a stake in National Oilwell Varco a while ago, and he said it was really surprising, because, typically, when an analyst or researcher is coming in, they're asking a whole bunch of these microscopic sort of questions on, like, margin compression or expansion and very short-term things.

And when Berkshire came in, there wasn't that huge focus of looking at the books. It was questions like, "Who are your big customers? Who are your big suppliers? What kind of relationship do you have with them?" And then, they would go from there, and actually go speak with the customers and the suppliers. The idea was not just looking at the company itself, but then looking at all of the people that affected...

O'Reilly: He was assessing how durable their business is.

Crowe: Right. So, I've got to imagine that when he was taking that special look, it wasn't necessarily at the books themselves, but probably more likely looking at the space like, some of the major...

O'Reilly: That is a really good insight.

Crowe: ... suppliers and customers that Kinder Morgan serves, and trying to get a gauge of how they may have some pricing strength, contract strength, things like that, rather than the "Are you able to expand your margin 0.5% next quarter?"

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Stocks Mentioned

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
BRK.A
$417,401.43 (3.75%) $15,101.43
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
BRK.B
$278.28 (4.02%) $10.76
Kinder Morgan, Inc. Stock Quote
Kinder Morgan, Inc.
KMI
$16.48 (1.48%) $0.24

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

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