A Comparison of Berkshire Hathaway Class A and Class B Shares

A Comparison of Berkshire Hathaway Class A and Class B Shares
By USA White House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Since Berkshire’s A shares are currently valued at about $250,000 per share, the overwhelming majority of the purchasers are likely to be institutions such as pensions funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, or ETF’s, with the remainder being purchased by relatively wealthy individuals.  However, this has not always been the case.  In 1980, for example, Berkshire sold for only about $300 per share, and in 1985 for $2,000 per share.  Individuals likely comprised a majority of early investors in Berkshire.  Since Warren Buffett has mentioned that Berkshire attracts long-term investors and has the lowest turnover of shares of any company traded on the New York Stock Exchange, a large percentage of these shares may still reside with individual investors.

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Berkshire Hathaway B shares  Warren Buffett A Shares
By Mark Hirschey (Work of Mark Hirschey) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The B shares were first issued in May, 1996 at $1,000 per share, with the original Berkshire shares, now referred to as A shares, valued at $30,000 per share.  In effect, the B shares represented a 30 to 1 stock split.  In January, 2010, the B shares were then split again, this time 50 to 1 in conjunction with Berkshire’s acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.  At that time, Berkshire’s A shares sold for $120,000 per share, and the B shares sold for $80 per share.  As a result, each Berkshire A share is valued at 1,500 times each B share.  Berkshire’s B shares were then included for the first time in the S&P 500 Index because of their increased liquidity resulting from a much lower price and many more shares outstanding.
Currently, about 200 shares of Berkshire A are traded each day.  With an approximate market value of $250,000 per share, that represents a daily dollar volume of about $50 million.  By contrast, approximately 4 million shares of Berkshire B are traded each day.  At a recent price of $167 per share, this represents a daily dollar volume of $670 million, or approximately 13 times that of the A shares.  There are currently 1.64 million Berkshire A shares (including B share equivalent shares) outstanding resulting in a total market capitalization of $410 billion, which recently resulted in Berkshire being ranked as the fifth largest company in the S&P 500.
According to Yahoo Finance, the major holders of Berkshire A shares are:

Major Holders (Berkshire A Shares)

Currency in USD

41.38% Shares Held by All Insider and 5% Owners
27.30% % of Shares Held by Institutional & Mutual Fund Owners
46.57% % of Float Held by Institutional & Mutual Fund Owners
810 Number of Institutions Holding Shares
Similarly, the major holders of Berkshire B shares are:

Major Holders (Berkshire B Shares)

Currency in USD

0.25% Shares Held by All Insider and 5% Owners
64.30% % of Shares Held by Institutional & Mutual Fund Owners
64.46% % of Float Held by Institutional & Mutual Fund Owners
1,759 Number of Institutions Holding Shares
From these tables, institutions and mutual fund holders own only 27% of the A shares, but 64% of the B shares.  That can be explained by insiders and 5% owners holding 41% of the A shares and less than 1% of the B shares.  According to Berkshire’s Notice of Annual Meeting of Shareholders May 6, 2017, Warren Buffett beneficially owned 38.3% of the A shares as of March 8, 2017.  The insiders primarily accumulated their shares in the 1960’s and 1970’s when Berkshire traded at less than $100 per share.
It should be noted, however, that these tables imply that individuals (other than insiders) hold about 31% of the A shares and 35% of the B shares.  The 1,500 to 1 stock split has resulted in opening up ownership in Berkshire to individual investors for as little as $167 (May, 2017) for one class B share vs. $250,000 per class A share.
From Berkshire Hathaway’s 2016 Annual Report (p. 115):
“Berkshire had approximately 2,300 record holders of its Class A common stock and 20,200 record holders of its class B common stock at February 15, 2017.  Record owners included nominees holding at least 430,000 shares of Class A common stock and 1,300,000,000 shares of Class B common stock on behalf of beneficial-but-not-of-record owners.”
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David I Kass Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Finance Ph.D., Harvard University Robert H. Smith School of Business 4412 Van Munching Hall University of Maryland College Park, MD 20742-1815 Phone: 301-405-9683 Email: [email protected] (link sends e-mail) Dr. David Kass has published articles in corporate finance, industrial organization, and health economics. He currently teaches Advanced Financial Management and Business Finance, and is the Faculty Champion for the Accelerated Finance Fellows. Prior to joining the faculty of the Smith School in 2004, he held senior positions with the Federal Government (Federal Trade Commission, General Accounting Office, Department of Defense, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis). Dr. Kass has recently appeared on Bloomberg TV, CNBC, PBS Nightly Business Report, Maryland Public Television, Business News Network TV (Canada), Fox TV, American Public Media's Marketplace Radio, and WYPR Radio (Baltimore), and has been quoted on numerous occasions by Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal, where he has primarily discussed Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. He has also launched a Smith School “Warren Buffett” blog. Dr. Kass has accompanied MBA students on trips to Omaha for private meetings with Warren Buffett, and Finance Fellows to Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meetings. He is an officer of the Harvard Business School Club of Washington, DC, and is a member of the investment and budget committees of a local nonprofit organization. Dr. Kass received a Smith School “Top 15% Teaching Award” for the 2009-2010 academic year.
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