Buffett Sells Insurance: Weapons of ANTI-Destruction
Those same “Weapons of Mass Destruction” that Warren Buffett so ardently warned investors against are the same derivatives that catapulted Berkshire Hathaways (BRKA) Q2 earnings performance. Chris McKhann at OptionMonster summarized Buffet’s moves:
Buffett has sold a large number of puts on four major indexes starting in 2007: the S&P 500, the FTSE 100, the Euro Stoxx 50, and the Nikkei 225. He took in $4.9 billion, with a potential loss of more than $35 billion–but only if all four indexes were at zero come the expiration date (at which point we would be worrying about other things).
Derivatives are like a gun, if used responsibly for gaming or for self-defense, then they can be a useful tool. Unfortunately, like guns, these derivatives are used irresponsibly in many instances. This point is especially true in areas like Credit Default Swaps where there were inadequate regulations and capital requirements to prevent disastrous outcomes (e.g., AIG’s collapse). With proper transparency, capital requirements, and proper regulation, derivatives can be used to manage risk rather than create additional risk.
Although I wouldn’t categorize myself as a value investor like Warren, I would prefer to call myself a growth investor with a value conscience. With that said, if you incorporate valuation within your investment discipline, I believe writing (selling) options is a brilliant idea. I can make this assertion because I’ve used this strategy for myself and my hedge fund. Volatility has a direct impact on the amount of premiums collected; therefore the trading levels of the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) will have a directly correlated impact on option writing profitability. For example, if I’m selling flood insurance, I’m going to collect much higher rates in the period right after Katrina occurred.
If you are willing to accept free money from speculators betting on short-term swings in prices (Warren sold long-term, multi-year options), while being forced to sell/buy stock at price levels you like, then why not?! However, buying and selling puts and calls is a different game in my book, and one I personally do NOT excel at. I’ll keep to utilizing “Weapons of Anti-Destruction” and collect premiums up-front, like Warren, from speculators and leave the rest of the options strategies to others.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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Entry filed under: Financial Markets, Profiles, Stocks. Tags: AIG, Berkshire Hathaway, BRKA, Buffett, call, calls, derivatives, options, premiums, put, puts, VIX, Warren Buffett, weapons of mass destruction.