Buffett May Add to Bank Stakes After Fed Shift, Barclays Says

(Bloomberg) -- Potential Federal Reserve changes in how it views investments in banks may mean Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. might increase already-sizable stakes in the banking sector, Barclays’s Jay Gelb and Jason Goldberg write in a note.

The Fed proposal would allow up to 25 percent ownership of a bank, compared with about 10 percent currently, without triggering oversight of the investor, if other qualitative factors are met, they said. Berkshire Hathaway currently has close to 10 percent ownership of Wells Fargo & Co., BNY Mellon Corp., Bank of America Corp., and US Bancorp, they noted, as bank investments accounted for more than 40 percent of the firm’s $173 billion equity investment portfolio as of the end of 2018.

“Buffett has intentionally kept its ownership below the 10 percent threshold to avoid Fed oversight of Berkshire,” they said. Gelb and Goldberg noted that Berkshire also owns 18 percent of American Express Co., based on a special Fed oversight exemption.

It’s unclear whether Berkshire would materially increase ownership stakes in banks in which it holds about 10 percent. However, a rule shift would at least mean it would “have the option of doing so, or not being required to sell shares due to share buybacks pushing its ownership stake above 10 percent,” they wrote. Buffett might also consider increasing stakes in other banks Berkshire owns at smaller scales, such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc., M&T Bank Corp., Synchrony Financial, PNC Financial Services Group and JPMorgan Chase & Co., they added.

Fed Offers More Certainty Over Investors’ Control of Banks

The KBW Bank Index has gained 17 percent so far this year, led by Citigroup Inc. SVB Financial Group, SunTrust Banks Inc. and BofA. The increase is similar to the S&P 500’s rise.

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