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Business

Warren Buffett gets permission to buy up to half of Occidental Petroleum, boosting its shares




Warren Buffett at a press conference during Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meeting on April 30, 2022.

CNBC

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway received regulatory approval on Friday to buy up to 50% of oil giant Occidental Petroleum.

Occidental shares rose 10% on the news to over $70 apiece, pushing their 2022 gains to more than 1[ads1]40%.

On July 11, Berkshire filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to purchase more of the oil company’s common stock in secondary market transactions. The conglomerate argued that a maximum stake of 50% would not harm competition or reduce regulatory authority.

Carlos Clay, acting director of the Department of Electric Power Regulation, granted the permit Friday, saying the authorization was “consistent with the public interest.”

The conglomerate has already drastically increased its Occidental stake this year. Berkshire currently owns 188.5 million shares in Occidental, equivalent to a 20.2% position. It crossed a key threshold where Berkshire could book some of the oil company’s earnings with its own, potentially adding billions of dollars in profits.

Berkshire also owns $10 billion in Occidental preferred stock, and has warrants to buy an additional 83.9 million common shares for $5 billion, or $59.62 each. The warrants were obtained as part of the company’s 2019 deal that helped finance Occidental’s purchase of Anadarko. The stake will rise to nearly 27% if Berkshire exercises these warrants.

Buy the whole company?

Friday’s news sparked speculation that Buffett will be interested in buying the entire company eventually after increasing his stake at low prices.

“He’ll probably continue to buy as much as he can get below $70 or $75. If you own 30% or 40% and want to buy it out at $95 or $100, you’re saving a lot of money,” said Cole Smead, president of Smead Capital Management and a Berkshire shareholder. “This stock is traded like a casino. The market gives him all the stocks he wants.”

David Kass, a finance professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, said an acquisition down the road is likely.

“I think it’s likely that Buffett will buy the whole thing eventually. The 50% limit may have been set to receive FERC approval for a non-controlling interest,” Kass said. “He clearly plans to buy more shares. So far, his maximum purchase price has been $60.37 per share.”

Some speculated that Berkshire and Occidental had been in communication about the potential move to increase their stake to up to 50%.

“He has always said he would only make friendly deals, so he may have agreed with the OXY board on that limit,” said Bill Stone, CIO of The Glenview Trust Company and a Berkshire shareholder.

“Made Nothing But Meaning”

The “Oracle of Omaha” began buying the stock after reading through Occidental’s annual report and gaining confidence in the company’s growth and leadership.

“What Vicki Hollub said made nothing but sense. And I decided it was a good place to put Berkshire’s money,” Buffett said of Occidental’s CEO during Berkshire’s annual meeting in April.

“Vicki said what the company had been through and where it was now and what they planned to do with the money,” he added.

Occidental has been the best performing stock in the S&P 500, benefiting from rising oil prices.

Buffett’s growing stake in Occidental has inspired a legion of small investors to follow suit, making it a favorite retail stock this year, according to data from VandaTrack.



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