If there is anyone out there who doesn’t need affirmation from Wall Street analysts, it’s the 87-year-old investing icon Warren Buffett . But JPMorgan gave it to the “Oracle of Omaha” anyway Thursday, initiating coverage on Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A), the conglomerate he’s run for five decades, with an overweight rating. Despite Berkshire being the sixth-largest company in the S&P 500 (^GSPC) by market cap, there are just seven analysts covering the company, according to FactSet.
This compares to the No. 5 most valuable company in the index, Amazon (AMZN), which has 41 analyst ratings. Wall Street doesn’t really bother to cover Buffett because of Berkshire’s low relative trading volumes as Street research often gets paid from trading commissions. “Berkshire is a collection of best-in-class businesses that range from insurance to railroads, utilities and manufacturing. The businesses benefit from best-in-class managements, unmatched balance sheet strength, and many of the companies have strong brands, scale or low-cost competitive advantages,” analyst Sarah DeWitt wrote in a note to clients.
“Berkshire’s largest businesses have meaningful structural advantages that we think will allow it to grow earnings and book value faster than overall equity markets over time,” she added. The analyst established a year-end 2018 price target of $210 for Berkshire Hathaway B shares, representing 17 percent upside from Wednesday’s close. DeWitt has covered insurance companies for JPMorgan for nearly three years. It’s unclear why the bank decided to put her on Berkshire this week. But we know it’s not to curry favor with Buffett, who is already a big fan of the bank and its CEO Jamie Dimon .
DeWitt predicts the company will report 17 percent earnings-per-share growth in 2018 and 9 percent earnings-per-share growth in 2019. She cited how Berkshire has $86 billion in cash, which can be used for future acquisitions. “Berkshire’s balance sheet strength is a significant competitive advantage, and its liquidity position is the highest ever,” she wrote. “Our estimates could have upside if Berkshire can deploy record levels of cash for acquisitions.” The analyst also mentioned Berkshire utility executive Greg Abel is currently the “most likely” successor to replace Warren Buffett as CEO of the company. “We think Greg Abel would be a strong allocator of capital and the earning power of the underlying businesses would remain strong,” she wrote.