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Friday, February 15, 2013

CNN MONEY: Does Warren Buffett still hate private equity?

February 14, 2013: 3:30 PM ET

Warren BuffettWarren Buffett has teamed up with 3G Capital to buy Heinz. Yes, that's a private equity firm.

FORTUNE -- Warren Buffett is no fan of private equity, having said that buyout firms are short-term financial engineers who "don't love" the companies in which they invest. He also has bragged about how he never has bought a company from private equity firms.
So what are we to make of the fact that Buffett today teamed up with a private equity firm called 3G Capital Partners to buy H.J. Heinz Co. (HNZ) in a $28 billion transaction?
From my perspective, it's a bit hypocritical.
3G has been referred to in the press as both a private equity firm and a hedge fund manager, and both are factually accurate. 3G manages several private equity funds, the most recent of which had gross asset value of $1.12 billion as of last October. Here is how 3G describes this fund family in its brochure:
The 3G Special Situations Funds' objectives are to achieve superior long-term capital appreciation by making either controlling or non-controlling (but, in such cases, typically influential) investments in a small number of companies operating fundamentally good businesses with easy to understand business models that are being undermanaged or to which the Adviser believes it can add meaningful value. The 3G Special Situations Funds focus on leveraged acquisitions, recapitalizations, and acquisitions of controlling or influential stakes of businesses in industries where the Adviser has either operating experience or a strong network of contacts within the industry.
It also appears to charge a 20% carried interest on these funds, with a management fee of between 1% and 2%. Around one-quarter of the capital comes from firm principals, while the remainder comes from a small group of high-net-worth Brazilian individuals (plus an even smaller group of institutional investors).
3G also manages a number of small hedge funds with differing strategies, including some that hold stakes in such companies as Goldman Sachs (GS), Google (GOOG) and SandRidge Energy (SD).
So perhaps it's best to describe 3G as an alternative investment platform, which features multiple strategies. Similar to how one might characterize The Blackstone Group (BX) or Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR).
Those familiar with 3G seem uncomfortable with the comparisons, however, saying that the firm has a much longer investment horizon than does garden-variety private equity. In that sense, they say, 3G more resembles Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) than Blackstone or KKR.
I've been unable to learn the investment lifecycle of a 3G private equity fund, in order to compare it to the industry-standard of 10 years. In fact, one source suggested that there may not even be one. If true, then it's a major distinction. If not, the only real difference would be that 3G raises its money from rich friends in Brazil rather than from public pension funds and university endowments in the U.S. And it certainly doesn't have publicly-traded securities like Berkshire Hathaway (which means there must be some viable path to investor liquidity).
A look at the firm's private equity track record doesn't help dispel the private equity label either. For example, 3G acquired Burger King (BKW) in 2010 largely by leveraging bank debt, and then returned it to the public markets just two years later via a reverse merger (as opposed to an IPO). 3G still holds a majority stake, but there's nothing novel about a private equity firm retaining control of a portfolio company three or four years after the initial acquisition.
Speaking of bank debt, even the Heinz deal is a leveraged buyout. It does include more equity than does a typical mega-LBO with Berkshire putting in between $12 billion and $13 billion (plus a smaller equity slug from 3G), but that still leaves billions of dollars of new debt on Heinz's books.
Perhaps Buffett was being hyperbolic when expressing his disdain for private equity, painting the entire industry with a brush of its worst excesses. After all, if he really believed 100% of what he said, then you'd think he would have found someone else to buy Heinz with.
Below is a CNBC interview with Buffett from earlier this morning, discussing the Heinz deal:

1 comment:


Boy oh boy lets give warren a pat on the back for calling private equity what it really is. Private equity is nothing more than a blood sucking way to drain the life and vitality out of a company in order to make a fast buck. Buy a company using lots of leverage. Along with some dirty little tricks like buying quietly a majority stake in a company behind everyones back without making a tender offer along with and including buying the shares at a big discount to what they are actually worth without declaring your intentions' to deceive investors. Than declare that your taking the company private and offer as little as possible for the remaining shares which are worth twice as much money as your offering for them and than say your saving the company what a bad bad joke. These private equity firms will do anything to come out ahead on the bottom line. Like sell all the real estate a company owns' sell or loan out patients and copyrights' tradmarks' pit one state against another threatening to move a division of their company to another state if they do not receive a subsidy or some generous tax breaks. Sell off divisions of the company that are undervalued. Fire as many workers as you possibly can' along with cutting the wages and benifits of the remaining employees to increase the bottom line. Squeeze price concessions from loyal vendors that are heavely dependent on a large part of their sales to your company. Tell your unions its take drastic cuts in wages and benifits or else risk having your plant shut down. And finally when you bring your company public again hire that so ethical investment banking firm goldman sachs to overhype the value of your public offering to increase the amount of money you will receive when the company becomes a public company again and at that point you bail out of the stock leaving a company torn into pieces from what it originally was.