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Business Sense column
By Bill Freehling
FOR the tens of thousands
"This is to let you know that I have been diagnosed with Stage 1 prostate cancer," Buffett wrote Berkshire Hathaway shareholders Tuesday.
Buffett proceeded to explain that the cancer was caught early and has not spread in his body. Buffett's doctors have told him his condition "is not remotely life-threatening or even debilitating in any meaningful way." He will undergo a two-month treatment of daily radiation starting in mid-July. That will restrict his travel, but he will continue as Berkshire's CEO.
The stock market seemed to take Buffett's mostly positive remarks at face value. Berkshire fell only slightly the morning following the announcement.
Sadly, however, the news does highlight the reality that the 81-year-old Buffett will not remain at Berkshire's helm forever, though it's certainly possible he could be there another decade. So while most seem to agree this week's news is probably a non-event in the short term, it does beg the question of whether Berkshire is a good investment for the long run.
At this point the market already seems to have priced in Buffett's eventual departure from Berkshire. For decades the stock had a "Buffett premium" that recognized the Oracle of Omaha's investing prowess. Now that premium is mostly gone. Berkshire is trading at only about 1.1 times book value. The stagnation in the stock price even led Buffett to start a rare buyback program.
Berkshire investors should now analyze the company's collection of assets and future prospects without Buffett. In many ways that future appears bright. Buffett has assembled a robust group of companies under Berkshire's corporate umbrella that touch on almost every aspect of the economy. He plays a hands-off role, allowing those subsidiaries to run on their own and then invest their cash.