Calling the current environment an “economic Pearl Harbor,” uber-investor Warren Buffett has pledged to buy $3 billion in preferred GE stock.
The diversified conglom, parent company of NBC Universal, has been hit hard all year, but especially over the past couple of weeks. GE Capital, the finance unit that accounts for roughly half the company’s annual profit, has faced a dire struggle given its involvement in the troubled credit markets.
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is buying the perpetual preferred shares in GE with a 10% dividend, which means income of $300 million a year. Such a provision is possible only in times of crisis.
The 78-year-old Nebraskan is seldom far from the news, but it’s been an especially active period for him of late. Last week, he paid $5 billion for preferred stock in Goldman Sachs in a deal that also carried a 10% dividend.
On Monday, Random House subsid Bantam Dell published hefty how-he-did-it bio “The Snowball” with Buffett’s cooperation. Reviews have been good, but sales had better be strong given $7 million advance he was paid for the book.
The GE buy-in was equal parts crisis management and plain old value investment. Berkshire also will receive warrants to buy $3 billion in common GE shares within five years at $22.25 a share. That price is near the five-year low the stock established on Sept. 18, which bodes well for Berkshire Hathaway’s margins.
“General Electric is the backbone of American industry,” Buffett said on CNBC. “They’ve become tainted, as every company is that has to borrow a lot of money all the time. They’re going to be around in five or 10 or 100 years from now and, if you buy at the right time, you’ll probably make some money.”
The Dow posted only a slight loss Wednesday, but GE shares lost almost 4% on the day to close at $24.50, with trading volume 2½ times normal levels.