Most CEOs are not good capital allocators when it comes to their stock:
- They are not objective analyzing their company and thus not objective in share buyback. In majority of cases they think their stock is a buy all the time. Why? Because they spend long hours trying to grow the business, they keep telling their customers how great their products are, they keep telling their board and Wall Street about the bright future of the business etc… They start believing their own spin.
- Most CEOs don’t know the difference between a good company and a good stock. Often good companies make a horrible stock.
- Since they own a lot of stock options they have an inherent bias to be bullish and a tremendous bias to drive EPS growth at any cost (i.e. Colgate buying its stock through late 90s and 2000s at 30 plus times earnings is an example of that). In fact since their stock options are linked to the stock price (not the total return to shareholders) the bias is always to buy back stock than to pay a dividend.
Buffett is not a typical CEO, in fact he is very hands off CEO. He doesn’t have stock options, he owns a lot of Berkshire (BRK) stock and has a very long-term time horizon (an important difference). He has a tremendous track record as an INVESTOR (capital allocator) and is trusted the market and the perceived value of Berkshire stock. A combination of all of the above means that when Buffett comes out and says we’ll buy back BRK stock, the market takes this as THIS stock is really cheap. At roughly 1x book, there is no Buffett premium priced into the shares.
Vitaliy N. Katsenelson, CFA, is Chief Investment Officer at Investment Management Associates in Denver, Colo. He is the author of The Little Book of Sideways Markets (Wiley, December 2010). To receive Vitaliy’s future articles by email, click here or read his articles here.
Investment Management Associates Inc. is a value investing firm based in Denver, Colorado. Its main focus is on growing and preserving wealth for private investors and institutions while adhering to a disciplined value investment process, as detailed in Vitaliy Katsenelson’s Active Value Investing (Wiley, 2007) book.