It’s tough to argue against Berkshire Hathaway‘s (BRK.A -0.87%) (BRK.B -0.78%) investment strategy. After all, the conglomerate has produced shareholder returns of more than 3,600,000% (not a typo) since Warren Buffett took the helm in 1964. However, Buffett feels that Berkshire has one big disadvantage going forward that will prevent the company from delivering returns anything close to these – its size.
In simple terms, Berkshire has become too large for most investments to even be worthy of consideration.
Think of it this way. As I write this, Berkshire’s market cap is about $670 billion. Let’s say that Buffett decided to put $100 million of Berkshire’s capital to work in a promising high-growth small-cap stock. Even if the stock were to 10x in a couple years and Buffett were to sell, it would result in a $900 million profit for Berkshire. That’s just over 0.1% of the company’s market value and wouldn’t have much of an impact for its investors.
On the other hand, investors like you and I have an advantage over Buffett in this sense. And one stock that checks a lot of the boxes Buffett looks for (other than its size) is Boston Omaha Corporation (BOC -3.03%).
Boston Omaha in a nutshell
Boston Omaha doesn’t have any business operations itself — rather, it functions as a holding company for four main subsidiaries. Link Media is the largest business for the time being and operates billboards, General Indemnity is an insurance business, and Boston Omaha has a broadband internet business as well that primarily serves rural customers.
And last, but certainly not least, is Boston Omaha Asset Management (BOAM), which invests Boston Omaha’s capital in a variety of minority investments and funds. As one example, Boston Omaha sponsored a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that took aviation infrastructure company Sky Harbour (SKYH -2.68%) public earlier this year. BOAM is also just ramping up a built-for-rent housing business, aiming to raise capital from outside investors to scale quickly in the red-hot rental market.
Why Boston Omaha is a “Buffett stock”
There are a few reasons why Boston Omaha might appeal to Warren Buffett. For starters, the company’s co-CEOs are following Buffett’s method of conglomerate building. In a recent shareholder letter, Buffett said that one of the biggest problems with most conglomerates is that they insist on only acquiring entire businesses. Boston Omaha, on the other hand, is happy to invest in non-controlling interests if it sees opportunity. In fact, one of its most successful investments — investing in homebuilder Dream Finders Homes (DFH -3.15%) years before its IPO – came this way.
In addition, Boston Omaha focuses on businesses that are capital-light and have great economics, especially at scale. Non-digital billboards require very little ongoing capital, and the same can be said for broadband internet. In the first quarter, these businesses operated with gross margins of 63% and 74%, respectively, and this should only get better as they grow.
It’s also worth noting that the similarities between Boston Omaha and an early stage Berkshire aren’t entirely coincidental. Boston Omaha’s co-CEO Alex Rozek is actually Buffett’s grandnephew and clearly drew inspiration from his great uncle.
Buy for the long term
It’s important to point out that Boston Omaha isn’t exactly a sure thing. While most of its underlying businesses and investments have somewhat of a margin of safety built in, there’s a ton of execution risk. In short, if it were easy to build a massive conglomerate from scratch, everyone would do it and there would be hundreds of Berkshire Hathaways in the market. It isn’t easy, and there’s a lot that needs to go right in order for Boston Omaha to achieve scale.
On a similar note, even the most stable companies (Berkshire included) can be rather volatile over short periods. Boston Omaha is designed to achieve strong returns over the long run, not over the next few weeks or month, so invest with this in mind.
Matthew Frankel, CFP® has positions in Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), Boston Omaha Corporation, Dream Finders Homes, Inc., and Sky Harbour Group Corporation. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), Boston Omaha Corporation, and Dream Finders Homes, Inc. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2023 $200 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short January 2023 $200 puts on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and short January 2023 $265 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.