Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway finally put some cash to work with its purchase of natural gas assets from Dominion Energy. The deal could spark a broader turnaround for the Oracle of Omaha.
Berkshire Hathaway announced Sunday that it was spending nearly $10 billion on the Dominion acquisition. Although that may sound massive, it's just a tiny fraction of the more than $137 billion in cash that Berkshire Hathaway had on its balance sheet at the end of the first quarter.
In fact, Berkshire is only paying $4 billion in cash for the Dominion assets. Buffett is also taking on nearly $6 billion in debt. So this deal hardly qualifies as the "elephant-sized acquisition" that Buffett has been talking about wanting to do for more than a year now.
The company's last major deal was the purchase of aerospace parts maker Precision Castparts for $37 billion in 2015.
Nonetheless, the Dominion acquisition could be a sign that Buffett is finally willing to dip his toes back into the M&A waters. And investors might welcome such a development.
Shares of Berkshire Hathaway rose 2% in early trading Monday. But the stock is down nearly 20% this year -- more than the S&P 500's loss of just 2%. Berkshire is lagging the broader market despite the fact that it has a 5.7% stake in Apple, which has soared 27% in 2020.
Deal drought but plenty of moves in Buffett's portfolio
Buffett has been much more active buying and selling individual stocks lately than doing deals for entire companies.
Berkshire Hathaway recently slashed its stake in Goldman Sachs and dumped its positions in airlines Southwest, American, United and Delta. But Berkshire has bought shares of Amazon, high end furnishings retailer RH and Kroger in the past year.
Although Berkshire hasn't pulled the trigger on a gigantic purchase lately, that doesn't mean Buffett has been sitting on the sidelines doing nothing.
Berkshire recently lost a bidding war for software and hardware distributor Tech Data to private equity firm Apollo Global Management for example.
And Berkshire was approached by jeweler Tiffany earlier this year about doing a deal. But Berkshire turned down the overture and LVMH wound up buying Tiffany instead.
Berkshire has continued to be fairly active in making deals in the oil patch. The company took a $10 billion stake in Occidental Petroleum last year in order to help finance Occidental's takeover bid for rival Anadarko.
The Dominion deal may be yet another sign of the growing clout of Greg Abel, an energy industry veteran who runs Berkshire's non-insurance businesses, at the company.
Abel is one of two executives viewed as likely successors to Buffett, who turns 90 in August, as Berkshire's next CEO. The other is Ajit Jain, the vice chairman who runs the insurance operations.
Abel joined Buffett to take questions at Berkshire's latest annual shareholder meeting in May. That meeting was held virtually due to Covid-19, but Buffett and Abel fielded questions for several hours on stage from an empty CHI Health Center in Omaha.