Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Tech's kryptonite, revealed

In his latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Warren Buffett reported that even Berkshire's largest publicly listed holding is asset-light Apple, and Berkshire is a very asset-heavy company. Its two major holdings are railroad BNSF and electric utility BNE, which has a large capital project to upgrade the electrical transmission grid in the western US, due to be complete in 2030.
Recently, I learned a fact about our company that I had never suspected: Berkshire owns American-based property, plant and equipment – the sort of assets that make up the “business infrastructure” of our country – with a GAAP valuation exceeding the amount owned by any other U.S. company. Berkshire’s depreciated cost of these domestic “fixed assets” is $154 billion. Next in line on this list is AT&T, with property, plant and equipment of $127 billion.
However, he extolled the virtues of asset-light platform businesses:
Our leadership in fixed-asset ownership, I should add, does not, in itself, signal an investment triumph. The best results occur at companies that require minimal assets to conduct high-margin businesses – and offer goods or services that will expand their sales volume with only minor needs for additional capital. We, in fact, own a few of these exceptional businesses, but they are relatively small and, at best, grow slowly.
In the past decade, investors have bid up the price of technology stocks, which have been the main beneficiaries of the asset-light platform business model. On a relative basis, technology forward P/E ratios are stretched relative to the S&P 500. 

Recent events have revealed the fatal weakness, or kryptonite, of the asset-light platform company's business model.

The full post can be found here.

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