Warren Buffett is about to do something that'll drive Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer crazy

warren buffettLucas Jackson/Reuters


Warren Buffett released his annual letter to shareholders on Saturday, and in it he said that his Omaha-based conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, planned to buy back more of its stock.

Buffett wrote it's likely, over time, that "Berkshire will be a significant repurchaser of its shares, transactions that will take place at prices above book value but below our estimate of intrinsic value."

That prospect is likely to draw the ire of politicians like Senators Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, who wrote in a New York Times op-ed earlier this month that corporate stock buybacks should be limited.

"At a time of huge income and wealth inequality, Americans should be outraged that these profitable corporations are laying off workers while spending billions of dollars to boost their stock's value to further enrich the wealthy few," they wrote.

The senators argued public companies buying back stock exacerbates income inequality and impedes long-term economic growth, adding that they do not benefit the vast majority of Americans.

Press contacts for Senators Sanders and Schumer did not immediately respond to Business Insider's requests for comment on Berkshire Hathaway's plans.

But Berkshire isn't the only one planning to buy back large amounts of its stock. 2019 is expected to be another record year for stock buybacks, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Last year, companies announced more than $1.1 trillion in share repurchases.

Buffett and his vice chairman, Charlie Munger, are big fans of buybacks. He wrote that most of Berkshire's major holdings, like American Express, buy back their shares.

"We very much like that: If Charlie and I think an investee's stock is underpriced, we rejoice when management employs some of its earnings to increase Berkshire's ownership percentage."

Analysts said this quarter's guidance on share buybacks would particularly notable because the company's board of directors last summer loosened its policy for buying back stock. Buffett and Munger said they would authorize stock buybacks when the repurchase price fell "below Berkshire's intrinsic value."

In the third-quarter, Berkshire bought back nearly $928 million of its stock, at a price of about 1.35 times its third-quarter book value per share. Prior to the policy change, the company said it would not buy back its stock above 1.2 times book value per share.

Kai Pan, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, said 1.35 times book value per share could be the new "floor" below which Berkshire would consider the stock below its intrinsic value.

After all, taking value into consideration has long been a core tenet of Buffett's investing philosophy. He wrote in his letter that repurchases should be "price-sensitive."

He added: "Blindly buying an overpriced stock is value destructive, a fact lost on many promotional or ever-optimistic CEOs."

Read more of Markets Insider's Berkshire Hathaway coverage:

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