Friday, November 21, 2008

Whitney Tilson: Berkshire Hathaway Credit Risk, Index Puts Are Overblown Worries

I’ve seen a lot of crazy things in my investment career, but I struggle to think of anything that tops this: Berkshire Hathaway’s five-year credit-default swap spreads have more than tripled in the past two months and now stand at 475 basis points (CDS quotes in this article are as of the end of day 11/19/08 and stock quotes as of 11/20/08), as this chart indicates (click charts to enlarge):

To get some perspective on what this means, the median CDS spread for companies with the lowest investment grade bond rating (BBB-) is 348 basis points, according to Moody’s, so the CDS market is indicating that AAA-rated Berkshire is junk! Or consider this chart, which shows that Berkshire’s CDSs are higher than a wide range of other financial companies [more than 4x Travelers, 3x JP Morgan Chase and well above Citigroup, even after Thursday’s stock collapse – the world has truly gone mad!]: