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Buffett spends record $2.2 billion buying Berkshire shares – Financial Post

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Warren Buffett kicked his stock-buyback program into high gear, spending $2.2 billion on repurchases in the last three months of 2019, the most ever in a single quarter — and he’s looking to buy even more.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which loosened its repurchase policy almost two years ago after being stymied on the dealmaking front, has since taken a cautious approach to buybacks, acquiring only $6.3 billion of stock. In the fourth quarter, Buffett bought shares every month, and has no plans to slow down, if the price is right.

“Shareholders having at least $20 million in value of A or B shares and an inclination to sell shares to Berkshire may wish to have their broker contact Berkshire’s Mark Millard,” Buffett said in his annual letter to shareholders Saturday. “We request that you phone Mark between 8:00-8:30 a.m. or 3:00-3:30 p.m. Central Time, calling only if you are ready to sell.”

Even as Buffett ramped up his repurchases, Berkshire’s massive pile of cash hovered close to a record, totaling $128 billion at the end of 2019. Buffett, Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive officer, has sought to redeploy those funds into higher-returning deals or stock purchases, but has been stymied by what he’s said are “sky-high” prices for good businesses.

Buffett spent a portion of his annual letter reassuring shareholders about the future of the company once it’s no longer run by the billionaire investor and his business partner, Charlie Munger, who turned 96 this year.

“Berkshire shareholders need not worry: Your company is 100 per cent prepared for our departure,” Buffett said.

Your company is 100 per cent prepared for our departure

At Berkshire’s annual meeting in May, shareholders will be able to submit questions to be answered by lieutenants Ajit Jain or Greg Abel, Berkshire vice chairmen who are considered top contenders to someday replace Buffett. They answered a few investors questions at last year’s meeting.

Berkshire’s operating earnings fell to $4.42 billion in the fourth quarter, down 23 per cent from a year earlier, driven by underwriting losses at its namesake reinsurance group, which was hurt by typhoons in Japan, wildfires in California and Australia, and widening losses at its business writing retroactive reinsurance contracts.

Berkshire’s Class A shares last year underperformed the S&P 500 Index by the widest margin since 2009. The stock has gained just 1.1 per cent this year.

Also in Berkshire’s 2019 annual report, released alongside Buffett’s letter Saturday:

Kraft Heinz Co., which counts Berkshire as its largest shareholder, had a tumultuous 2019, with writedowns, management shakeups and downgrades to junk. Buffett’s company carries its Kraft Heinz investment on its balance sheet at $13.8 billion, a figure unchanged since 2018’s fourth quarter, even as the market price of the stake dropped to $10.5 billion at the end of last year.Berkshire’s BNSF railroad posted a 3.8 per cent gain in profit in the fourth quarter, just shy of record earnings in the previous three months, as a decline in expenses helped counter falling revenue across shipments of products such as coal, consumer items and agricultural goods. BNSF posted a regulatory filing Friday night, on the eve of the release of Buffett’s annual letter, giving investors a sneak peek of results.

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Oil Jumps On Massive Crude Inventory Draw – OilPrice.com

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Oil Jumps On Massive Crude Inventory Draw | OilPrice.com


Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Crude oil prices moved higher today, after the Energy Information Administration estimated a draw in oil inventories of 7.1 million barrels for the week to August 12.

This compared with a build of 5.5 million barrels reported for the previous week. A day earlier, the American Petroleum Institute estimated a modest crude draw of 448,000 barrels for the week to August 12.

In gasoline, the EIA estimated an inventory draw of 4.6 million barrels for last week, which compared with a 5-million-barrel decline for the previous week.

Gasoline production averaged 10 million bpd last week, which compared with 10.2 million bpd during the previous week.

In middle distillates, the EIA reported an inventory build of 800,000 barrels, which compared with a much needed build of 2.2 million barrels for the previous week as inventories have fallen to critical levels.

Middle distillate production averaged 5.1 million barrels daily, compared with 5.1 million bpd for the previous week.

Oil prices hit the lowest in six months earlier this week but recovered after the API report as it suggested demand for oil remained stable despite the challenging economic situation.

At the time of writing, Brent crude was trading at $92.47 per barrel, with West Texas Intermediate changing hands for $87.01 per barrel.

“A drawdown of U.S. gasoline stockpiles for a second straight week has reassured investors that demand is resilient, prompting buys,” one oil analyst from Fujitomi Securities told Reuters this week.

“Still, the oil market is expected to stay under pressure, with fairly high volatility, due to worries over a potential global recession,” Kazuhiko Saito added.

The volatility is being fed also by continued uncertainty about the Iran nuclear deal, after Iran sent a written response to the EU’s latest proposal with Iranian media suggesting it won’t accept it as is.

Another factor fuelling price volatility are the latest oil demand figures from China, which were weaker than many expected.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Airbnb to roll out new 'anti-party' technology in Canada, U.S. – CBC News

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Airbnb says it will use new methods to spot and block people who try to use the short-term rental service to throw a party.

The company said Tuesday it has introduced technology that examines the would-be renter’s history on Airbnb, how far they live from the home they want to rent, whether they’re renting for a weekday or weekend and other factors.

Airbnb said the screening system that it is rolling out for listings in Canada and the United States has been tested since last October in parts of Australia, where it produced a 35 per cent drop in unauthorized parties.

The San Francisco-based company said the technology is designed to prevent a customer’s request for reservation from ever reaching the host of the property involved. Airbnb said people blocked from renting an entire home might be able to book a single room because the host is more likely to be around.

Worldwide party ban implemented in 2020

Airbnb has been under growing pressure to clamp down on parties since 2019, when a Halloween house party in a San Francisco suburb ended with five people dead in a shooting.

The following year, Airbnb announced a worldwide party ban at its listings and banned people under 25 from renting an entire house near their home unless they had a record of positive reviews on the site.

In 2020, the company suspended more than 40 listings in Ontario alone, targeting hosts who had received warnings, complaints, or had otherwise violated company’s party policy in the year prior.

Last October, a municipality in Quebec temporarily suspended short-term listings when an Airbnb party attracted over 500 attendees. 

The party ban was initially cast as a temporary health measure during the pandemic, as more people moved from bars and clubs into rented homes, but was made permanent in June.

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Hudson's Bay to resurrect discount retail chain Zellers – CBC News

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Canadian department store Zellers hopes to make a comeback next year, a decade after the discount chain shuttered most of its locations.

Hudson’s Bay Co. says Zellers will debut a new e-commerce website and expand its brick-and-mortar footprint within select Hudson’s Bay department stores across the country in early 2023.

  • What do you remember about shopping at Zellers? Let us know in an email to ask@cbc.ca

The company says the relaunched Zellers will offer “a digital-first shopping journey that taps into the nostalgia of the brand.”

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for Hudson’s Bay did not confirm where the new Zellers stores will be located.

Initial inventory will include housewares, furniture and toys, with apparel to be introduced later in the year. The company also plans to launch a private brand, according to the release.

Lawsuit over Zellers brand ongoing

The return of Zellers comes as soaring inflation drives consumers to discount retailers in search of lower prices. It follows Tuesday’s announcement from Hudson’s Bay that outdoor gear retailer MEC will open shops in three Bay department store locations this fall.

It also comes amid an ongoing lawsuit over a Quebec family’s use of the Zellers brand.

The Moniz family is behind various recent trademark applications and corporate registries, including Zellers Inc., Zellers Convenience Store Inc. and Zellers Restaurant Inc.

In a statement of claim filed last fall, HBC accused the Moniz family of trademark infringement, depreciation of goodwill and so-called passing off — the deceptive marketing or misrepresentation of goods.

Bruce Winder, a Toronto-based retail analyst, said he believes the Zellers revival is partly a reaction to the lawsuit.

“They need to demonstrate that they are still interested in the brand and there’s no better way to do that than actually open some stores,” Winder said.

Mixed reaction from consumers, retail strategists

A Zellers storefront announces its closure in 2013. Consumers and retail strategists offered mixed reactions after the Hudson’s Bay Company announced it will resurrect the discount chain this year. (CBC)

CBC News heard a range of responses from consumers with fond — and not-so-fond — memories of shopping at Zellers. Some are hoping for the return of the in-store restaurant and the brand’s mascot, Zeddy.

Others expressed hope that Zellers could compete with big-box stores such as Walmart and Giant Tiger.

“I always thought the Zellers was the store that catered to everyone, and I was very disappointed to see it go,” said Diane, a longtime resident of Toronto’s Richmond Hill neighbourhood.

“And then we had Target. It didn’t meet up to the Zellers standards. I would love to see it come back. I think it would service a lot of people from different incomes.”

Others recalled bad customer service experiences, a shortage of advertised products and understaffed stores. Some expressed concern that the store wouldn’t carry locally made products.

Mark Satov, a strategy adviser at Toronto-based Satov Consultants who worked with Zellers in the past, is cautiously optimistic about the brand’s resurrection. 

“They probably have to spend a little less to resurrect this brand than to create a new brand,” he said. 

Satov added that he doesn’t think the brand has a negative connotation among consumers — but it wasn’t a successful business, which is why it was sold, he said.

“I think it’s an OK move. I’m not sure that this is going to be a home run, but let’s see.”

Others have lower expectations. While the move is meant to capitalize on consumers’ nostalgia for the Zellers brand, many will associate the company with a negative shopping experience, according to Craig Patterson, the founder and publisher of retail media site Retail Insider.

“I think people are just excited to get something that was in their lives in the past, and that could be almost anything. But I’m not sure if this Zellers move is going to be a positive one long term for Hudson’s Bay,” Patterson said. “It really remains to be seen in how it’s executed.”

“I think that there is going to be an uphill battle in developing this new brand and creating these shops and stores, as well as this entire new e-commerce division for the Hudson Bay Company, which is, again, an expansion for that company.”

Most stores closed by 2013

Hudson’s Bay launched a pop-up Zellers shop inside Hudson’s Bay department stores in Burlington, Ont., and Anjou, Que., in 2021. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

The Zellers department store was founded in 1931 and acquired by HBC in 1978.

It operated as the discount division of its flagship Hudson’s Bay department stores, with the slogan “Where the lowest price is the law.”

The store hit its peak of about 350 locations in the late 1990s, before losing ground to big-box competitors such as Walmart.

In 2011, HBC announced plans to sell the majority of its remaining Zellers leases to Target Corp., closing most stores by 2013.

The retailer kept a handful of Zellers locations open as liquidation outlets until 2020.

The company launched a pop-up Zellers shop inside Hudson’s Bay department stores in Burlington, Ont., and Anjou, Que., in 2021.

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