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When Warren Buffett is no longer Berkshire CEO, Greg Abel will succeed him

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For the millions of people who tuned into the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, careful viewers were rewarded with an unexpected bit of news: who will be the next CEO of the company.

In response to a question on Saturday about whether the company would eventually be too complex to manage, Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger made a comment that, on the surface at least, wasn’t all that surprising.

“Greg will keep the culture,” the 97-year-old Munger said simply, explaining that the company’s decentralized nature would outlast him and Warren Buffett.

But that was enough to clue in some Berkshire watchers, who have been wondering about succession plans at the conglomerate once 90-year-old Chairman and CEO Buffett is no longer in charge. To many, it signaled the top job will go to Vice Chairman Greg Abel, who runs all of the noninsurance operations.

The impression was an accurate one, CNBC can confirm.

“The directors are in agreement that if something were to happen to me tonight, it would be Greg who’d take over tomorrow morning,” Buffett said. He praised Abel and Vice Chairman Ajit Jain, who runs all of Berkshire’s insurance operations.

Greg Abel at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in Los Angeles California. May 1, 2021.

Gerard Miller | CNBC

Both had been seen as being in the running for the top job since they were promoted to vice chairmen in 2018. “If, heaven forbid, anything happened to Greg tonight then it would be Ajit,” said Buffett, adding that age is a determining factor for the board. Abel is 59 and Jain is 69. “They’re both wonderful guys. The likelihood of someone having a 20-year runway though makes a real difference.”

The question of who would take over after Buffett has been a source of speculation for over 15 years. For years, it was assumed that Buffett’s successor would be David Sokol, who ran MidAmerican Energy, now called Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and NetJets for Berkshire. But Sokol left Berkshire in 2011 after it was disclosed he had taken on a $10 million stake in chemical company Lubrizol shortly before recommending Berkshire buy the company.

From Buffett’s perspective, Munger was simply acknowledging what has been a common practice for the board of directors. “We’ve always at Berkshire had basically a unanimous agreement as to who should take over the next day,” said Buffett. “The world’s paying more attention now.”

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House committee passes broad tech antitrust reforms

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A House committee passed a series of sweeping antitrust reforms Thursday after roughly 23 hours of debate.

While the advancement of the six tech-focused bills considered by the House Judiciary Committee beginning Wednesday is a victory for the bipartisan members who introduced them, the markup surfaced rifts within parties that could ultimately hamper the bills’ chances of becoming law.

Several lawmakers made it clear they thought the process from introduction to markup in less than two weeks felt rushed, despite a lengthy investigation preceding the bills. Some said they hoped to see further changes before the legislation reaches the House floor.

Still, the last leg of the debate offered some signs of optimism for those hoping to advance the bills further. Fresh from a recess after passing the fifth bill after 5 a.m. on Thursday, lawmakers returned to the committee room to discuss the Ending Platform Monopolies Act around 11:30 a.m.

The bill — sponsored by antitrust subcommittee Vice Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and co-sponsored by Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas — would prevent dominant platforms from owning business lines that present conflicts of interest, such as by incentivizing them to favor their own products over rivals’ dependent on their services.

The bill was one of the most aggressive in the package, which also included updates to merger filing fees for dominant platforms, a shift of burden of proof in acquisitions and provision to let state attorneys general have more say in the venue of their antitrust cases. It could essentially force break-ups of businesses like Amazon and Apple, which both sell products or services on their own marketplaces that also serve third-parties. Both stocks closed slightly lower for the day.

Despite the major implications of the bill, it was not the most controversial of the bunch. Lawmakers spent much longer arguing over the data portability mandate under the Access Act as they assessed potential security issues, for example.

Jayapal’s bill also inspired lively debate. Ultimately, the vote fell along similar lines as the others (it passed 21-20, supported by Democrats and Reps. Ken Buck, R-Colo., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and opposed by Republicans backed by Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., and California Democrats Lou Correa, Zoe Lofgren and Eric Swalwell). But throughout the discussion, it was clear many in the group broadly agreed with the principles of the bill, even if they felt it could use some fine-tuning.

“I will tell you, I’m not 100% there to break up Big Tech, but I’m close,” said Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C. “And this is the bill that if it were done right, would be the vehicle to put that on the table.”

Though an amendment he introduced failed, antitrust subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I. and Jayapal expressed a willingness to work with Bishop on potentially including a nod to his idea in the bill. Bishop essentially sought to try to expedite antitrust cases to the courts by removing a regulatory step. Cicilline had called it “the most interesting amendment of the markup” even though he did not support it, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio called it “the amendment.”

In an interview after the markup on Thursday, Buck, the ranking member on the antitrust subcommittee who supported the legislation, told CNBC he expects more work will be done before the bills move forward.

“I don’t think the bills are going to be on the floor for a couple of months because of the August recess, so I think that the opportunity to work together is certainly there,” he said.

It’s clear that even after such a long debate, the bill authors still have a lot of work to do. After the markup adjourned, bipartisan members of the California delegation on the committee released a joint statement, urging further revision to the bills despite their passage from the committee. They also said the committee members did not have enough time to properly consider the bills prior to the markup.

“The bill text as debated is not close to ready for Floor consideration,” wrote Correa, Swalwell, Lofgren and Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Tom McClintock, R-Calif. “We urge the sponsors of the bills to take the necessary time, commit to a comprehensive approach, and work with their bipartisan colleagues of this Committee to address the concerns articulated during markup to further develop these bills.”

Buck responded to criticism from his colleagues who felt they didn’t have enough time to review the bills, saying “it’s a common objection” but that “the ideas in the bill were summarized in reports that were written last October.”

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Nike (NKE) reports Q4 2021 earnings beat

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A man walks in front of Nike products exhibit, on February 22, 2021 in New York City.

John Smith | Corbis News | Getty Images

Nike on Thursday reported fiscal fourth-quarter earnings and sales that topped analysts’ estimates, fueled by record revenue in its largest market, North America.

The company continues to benefit from consumers seeking out comfortable clothing to wear for workouts but also around the house. Even as people return to schools, offices and other social settings, many are still searching for relaxed options like sneakers and stretchy pants.

Nike also saw a boost to its wholesale business — something that was largely inactive a year earlier during the Covid pandemic, when shopping malls and department stores had to temporarily shut their doors and put orders for merchandise on pause.

Nike shares jumped more than 4% in after-hours trading.

Here’s how the company did during its fiscal fourth quarter, compared with what analysts were anticipating, using Refinitiv estimates:

  • Earnings per share: 93 cents vs. 51 cents expected
  • Revenue: $12.34 billion vs. $11.01 billion expected

Nike’s net income for the period ended May 31 rose to $1.5 billion, or 93 cents per share, compared with a loss of $790 million, or 51 cents per share, a year earlier. That topped analysts’ forecast of 51 cents per share, using Refinitiv data.

Total revenue rose to $12.34 billion from $6.31 billion a year earlier, topping estimates for $11.01 billion.

In North America, Nike’s biggest market, sales more than doubled to a record $5.38 billion as the company surged from a year earlier when the Covid pandemic was hitting the retail industry the hardest. The region’s sales were up 29% on a two-year basis.

In Greater China, sales were up just 17% at $1.93 billion. Typically one of the fastest-growing markets for Nike, consumers in China have threatened a boycott after some Western brands like Nike expressed concern about allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang.

Digital sales were up 41% compared with the prior year, and rose 147% compared with the same period in 2019.

“Fueled by our momentum, we continue to invest in innovation and our digital leadership to set the foundation for Nike’s long-term growth,” said Nike CEO John Donahoe.

Find the full earnings press release from Nike here.

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Federal Reserve gives U.S. banks a thumbs up as all 23 lenders easily pass 2021 stress test

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The Federal Reserve announced Thursday that the biggest U.S. banks could easily withstand a severe recession, a milestone for the once-beleaguered industry.

The Fed, in releasing the results of its annual stress test, said that all 23 institutions in the 2021 exam remained “well above” minimum required capital levels during a hypothetical economic downturn.

That scenario included a “severe global recession” that hits commercial real estate and corporate debt holders and peaks at 10.8% unemployment and a 55% drop in the stock market, the Fed said. While the industry would post $474 billion in losses, loss-cushioning capital would still be more than double the minimum required levels, the Fed said.

If there was an anticlimactic note to this year’s stress test, it’s because the industry underwent a real-life version in the past year when the coronavirus pandemic struck, leading to widespread economic disruption. Thanks to help from lawmakers and the Fed itself, banks fared extremely well during the pandemic, stockpiling capital for expected loan losses that mostly didn’t materialize.

Nevertheless, during the pandemic, banks had to undergo extra rounds of stress tests and had restrictions imposed on their ability to return capital to shareholders in the form of dividends and buybacks. Those will now be lifted, as the Fed has previously stated.

“Over the past year, the Federal Reserve has run three stress tests with several different hypothetical recessions and all have confirmed that the banking system is strongly positioned to support the ongoing recovery,” Vice Chair for Supervision Randal K. Quarles said in a statement.

Dividend increases and buybacks coming

After passing this latest exam, the industry will regain a measure of autonomy it lost since the last crisis. After playing a key role in the 2008 financial crisis, banks were forced to undergo the industry exam, and had to ask regulators for permission to boost dividends and repurchase shares.

Now, under something called the stress capital buffer framework, banks will gain flexibility in how they want to dole out dividends and buybacks. The stress capital buffer is a measure of capital each firm needs to carry based on the riskiness of their operations. The new regime was supposed to start last year, but the pandemic intervened.

“So long as they stay above that stress capital buffer requirement and all their other requirements every quarter, a bank can technically do whatever it chooses to do with regards to buybacks and dividends,” Jefferies bank analyst Ken Usdin told CNBC this week.

During a background call with reporters, senior Fed officials pushed back against the idea that the new regime resulted in a free-for-all. Banks are still subject to restrictions, and the Fed is confident that the stress capital buffer framework will protect their ability to support the economy during a downturn, they said.

While analysts have said they expect the industry can hike buybacks and dividends by tens of billions of dollars starting in July, the Fed has instructed lenders to wait until Monday afternoon to disclose their plans, according to people with knowledge of the situation. That’s when a flurry of press releases is expected.

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