Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway disclosed a new bet on Aon in a portfolio update on Monday. It also revealed that it took a knife to several positions and virtually eliminated its Wells Fargo stake last quarter.
The famed investor’s company bought 4.1 million shares of Aon, a British health insurer and pensions administrator, in the three months to March 31. It also boosted its Verizon stake by about 8% to 159 million shares – worth over $9 billion at the end of the period. Moreover, it ramped up its Kroger bet by over 50% to north of 50 million shares.
Buffett and his team trimmed several positions, which was expected given Berkshire’s recent earnings showed that it sold $3.9 billion of stock on a net basis last quarter. They slashed their Chevron stake, despite only establishing it last year, by just over half to 24 million shares worth $2.5 billion. They also reduced their pharmaceutical bets – AbbVie, Bristol Myers-Squibb, and Merck – as well as Liberty Global, Axalta, and StoneCo.
Notably, Berkshire cut its Wells Fargo stake from more than 50 million shares to fewer than 700,000. The bank had been one of Buffett’s biggest positions until last year.
The lack of purchases last quarter chimes with Buffett’s comments at Berkshire’s recent shareholder meeting. The investor said he was looking to invest about $80 billion of Berkshire’s roughly $140 billion cash hoard in stocks and businesses, but admitted he was struggling to find bargains in the current market.
Buffett cited the Federal Reserve’s continued efforts to pump liquidity into markets, which has boosted asset prices and fueled competition for acquisitions, as a key factor.
Iconic is an apt description for both Yahoo and AOL. The companies helped create the internet as we know it today, with decades-long histories that have spanned the administrations of about a half dozen US presidents and just as many transitions of technology standards. (Remember the ubiquitous 3.5 inch AOL floppy discs?)
As Insider columnist Adam Lashinsky writes, the slow decline that befell both companies is the result of a long list of causes. Yahoo’s fall from grace is particularly instructive when you consider all the trends the company recognized early on but never capitalized on, allowing other companies to steal the show. Lashinsky writes:
The “Jet Suit” made by the UK’s Gravity Industries is still experimental and the British military has not committed to buying the technology. But the video, based on three days of training drills conducted by 42 Royal Marines, offers a fascinating glimpse of how jet packs could be used for military operations.
In the video, a Jet Suit-equipped Royal Marine blasts off an inflatable raft and lands on the deck of a nearby ship. He then throws down a rope ladder to let fellow soldiers board the vessel, part of a maritime operation known as “visit, board, search and seizure.” Trust me, you’ll want to watch this video.
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Verizon’s privacy problem
Privacy concerns are casting a big shadow over the ad world. It’s top of mind for every advertiser with Apple now limiting access to user data. It’s one of the big presenter buzzwords at this week’s IAB NewFronts, digital media’s big annual showcase.
Advertisers expressed frustration way back that Verizon wasn’t delivering on its promise to marry data and content (and they themselves were nervous about the approach backfiring in light of privacy concerns).
Verizon also lost its biggest champion of the vision, Tim Armstrong, and ended up writing down the value of its media properties and abandoning its streaming video service Go90.
“The whole premise was flawed – in the long term you can’t use consumer data without the perception of violating consumer data,” Brian Weiser, global president of business intelligence at WPP’s GroupM, told Insider. “The end of this effort was always very clear.”
It’s not been a great time for other companies that bet big on adtech.
JetBlue picked a new Omnicom ad agency as it seeks to cut costs and convince pandemic-weary consumers to return to the skies.
JetBlue is known for its unconventional ads to stand out as a lower-priced alternative. It offered customers discounts for stealing its own bus stop ads or sitting on a flight with a crying baby, for one.
But these are different times, and ones that will likely call for a decidedly different approach to its advertising.
Peloton is facing backlash after reports that its accidents involving the Tread+ led to 38 injuries and one child’s death.
Bethany Biron spoke with 5 Peloton customers who experienced Tread+ issues dating back to January 2019. From her story:
Cary Kelly, a seasoned marathon runner, says she lost her footing two minutes into a workout on her Peloton Tread+ in May 2019.
When she fell, she says she landed facedown on the treadmill. According to Kelly, the machine then propelled her prone body backward so forcefully her legs broke through the wall. Unable to move, she says she remained stuck in this position as the treadmill belt continued moving beneath her, tearing into her skin on her face and neck.
“It seemed like a million minutes, like I was there forever,” Kelly told Insider.
By the time Kelly was able to extract herself, she says her body was covered in burns and her legs riddled with bone fractures, confirmed by X-ray scans after the accident. Kelly says the injuries made it difficult for her to walk and impossible for her to run for months.
Even though it is still in the early stages, much attention has been focused on how 5G services will effectively power innovation and increase performance, across a broad range of industries.
Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all offer 5G coverage across the US, and last October, Apple rolled out a lineup of iPhone 12 models, all of which will be compatible with 5G.
The technology follows 4G LTE, which is used for streaming and other data-heavy activities, as well as driving Verizon’s national network, for example. 5G networks are anticipated to be 10 times faster than 4G LTE, as Insider previously reported.
Insider spoke to experts in the healthcare, transportation, augmented reality, and retail industries to see how they will be able to leverage this technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of telehealth services in an age where social-distancing measures dominate our lives. Electronic interaction between doctors and patients has been relied upon as people follow stay-at-home orders.
With the implementation of 5G, e-health experts and entrepreneurs are increasingly seeing how the new technology has the potential to advance healthcare to the next level. For example, by accelerating the use of augmented-reality applications and robotics to assist surgeons in complex surgical procedures.
Oliver Kharraz is the chief executive and founder of ZocDoc, a New York-based service that helps people book medical appointments. Kharraz said in an interview with Insider: “Investments in infrastructure, including 5G, will ensure that everyone has seamless access to telehealth and faster access to healthcare overall.”
For Kharraz, making a doctor’s appointment shouldn’t require perseverance. It should be a speedy, convenient process, he said, which is a distinct advantage of 5G, due to its super-short latency.
When asked what problems 5G can solve in telehealth, Kharraz said there are three important ways the technology can resolve issues in telehealth: “Bringing consistency to the experience, offering efficiencies, and enabling more and better relationships.”
He said: “Right now, a patient located in an area with spotty connectivity may have to explain a symptom to their provider two or three times and wait through a screen freeze for answers to their questions; that’s not a great experience. In urban areas, many of us take that connectivity for granted but it’s not the reality everywhere.
The proliferation of 5G will introduce additional efficiencies that will allow providers to minimize their efforts on administrative processes, Kharraz added. “For instance, in areas with good online access, appointments can be made online versus on the phone and documents can easily be shared on a patient portal versus a fax machine.”
5G is poised to revolutionize the transportation industry in two categories – protection and personalization – according to Verizon’s new business incubation VP, Elise Neel.
By protection, Neel refers to the ways in which 5G can drastically improve road safety. Verizon’s partnerships with companies like HERE, a location data and technology platform, demonstrate the possibilities of combining the power of 5G Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) with location intelligence.
Neel said: “One application that was developed leverages HERE’s HD Live Map and HERE’s proprietary Live Sense computer vision technology to create a Vehicle to Network (V2N) communication system that identifies vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, and barriers from a vehicle-mounted smartphone.”
The data is then sent in real-time to Verizon’s 5G MEC network, where AI predicts likely travel paths and warns vehicles of impending potential collisions, Neel said.
5G will also enable innovations that help cut congestion by monitoring and controlling traffic lights; alerting drivers of delays; and providing smart parking solutions, according to Neel. She said this will allow cities to personally accommodate individual needs.
Neel believes 5G is paving the way for an array of innovations that will reshape cities, businesses, and society as a whole. “These advances are merging the physical, digital, and biological worlds in ways that create both huge promise and potential disruption,” she said.
Advanced technology through 5G will also enable new innovations in manufacturing.
As information technology and operational technology budgets continue to converge, 5G will assist in the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution as factories and systems become more automated and autonomous.
Neel cites the example case of autonomous mobile robots and MEC, which will create new opportunities to upskill workers and facilitate a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines.
Transparent and real-time data sharing can also improve response times, and enable predictive maintenance and inventory analyses, all powered by 5G.
4. Augmented reality and artificial intelligence
The future of AR and AI depends on the reliability of 5G networks.
Carolina Arguelles Navas, head of AR product strategy at Snapchat, told Insider about the importance of 5G technology for Snapchat since it enables them to create augmented-reality experiences that far surpass anything they were able to do before.
She said: “For example, our famous AR Lenses are usually around 4mb in file size. With 5G, we’re able to deliver Lenses that are around 50mb in file size! It makes a huge difference in the quality, detail, and amount of content that we can pack into each individual Lens, and allows us to deliver these tech-intensive experiences seamlessly to Snapchatters.”
Last year, Snapchat put 5G to the test with the world’s first 5G Landmarker Lens experience, built in partnership with Verizon. Together with Verizon and the band Black Pumas, they transformed the New York public library into an AR concert venue.
“Snapchatters on Verizon’s 5G network could unlock an AR experience at the Library, where Black Pumas’ lead singer Eric Burton put on a psychedelic performance of their hit song ‘Colors’ as a Bitmoji-style avatar.
Arguelles Navas said the company was excited to “continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible as 5G networks become more widely available.”
When 5G is distributed to enough people, retail operations stand to benefit from incorporating the technology into their business. The technology will be useful for experiences like VR and AR, which retailers can use to enhance their in-store experience, according to Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData, an analytics and consulting company.
“From an operational point of view, 5G can be used internally to allow workers to connect to store and company networks remotely via portable devices,” he said.
The potential to further elevate digital communication comes at a time when engaging with consumers through technology has become essential as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
Saunders added: “5G will allow retailers to deliver more information to consumers, which will improve customer service. There are many back-end connectivity issues, such as connecting remote sites and warehouses to the retail ecosystem that it could help with.”
Other investors anticipate that behavior and rush to take advantage by buying or selling before the Buffett faithful, making the process somewhat self-fulfilling.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has showcased a similar ability in recent weeks, driving stocks and cryptocurrencies skyward with his tweets.
The “Buffett Bump” was on full display this week after Berkshire disclosed multibillion-dollar stakes in Verizon, Chevron, and Marsh & McLennan after markets closed on Tuesday. The telecoms titan’s stock price jumped 5% on Wednesday, while shares in the energy giant and the financial services group rose about 3%.
The rallies added about $19 billion in total to the three companies’ market capitalizations.
Similarly, there have been “Musk Moves” in numerous securities this year. The Tesla chief’s tweets about GameStop, Dogecoin, and Etsy helped to – at least temporarily – drive their prices higher.
Musk’s tweets about the encrypted-messaging app Signal and the techno song “Sandstorm” have been linked to run-ups in entirely unrelated securities.
Moreover, Tesla’s purchase of $1.5 billion of bitcoin this month has been a key catalyst in the digital coin’s latest rally. Musk’s endorsement was hailed as a milestone in mainstream acceptance of cryptocurrencies.
It’s clear that Buffett’s backing continues to translate into billion-dollar increases in companies’ market values. He has some competition from Musk, whose stamp of approval has a similar, albeit less precise and sustained, effect on markets too.
Verizon gained as much as 3.8% on Wednesday after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway unveiled a multibillion-dollar stake in the telecom giant.
The conglomerate revealed it added 147 million of Verizon’s shares to its holdings in the quarter that ended December 31, according to a 13-F filing published Tuesday. The purchase amounted to roughly $8.6 billion in stock.
Buffett also took a $4.1 billion stake in Chevron and established a $500 million investment in professional-services firm Marsh & McLennan through the December quarter.
Berkshire won regulatory approval to keep its three new investments private in its third quarter 13-F filing after arguing it wasn’t yet done building the positions. New investments by the holding company tend to drive share prices higher, as a bullish outlook from Buffett often attracts new investors.
Apple remains Berkshire’s biggest single investment. The firm owned roughly 908 million shares at the end of last year. The stake’s value accounts for about 44% of its entire $270 billion stock portfolio.
The new bets on Verizon and Chevron highlight Buffett’s confidence in more traditional sectors to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The legendary investor was optimistic the start of the health crisis, telling investors they should “never, ever bet against America.” While tech giants led the stock market’s initial rebound, investors have since rotated cash to value and small-cap stocks in hopes that vaccinations and new stimulus can supercharge an economic rebound.
Verizon closed at $54.15 on Tuesday, down roughly 7% year-to-date. The company has six “buy” ratings and 11 “hold” ratings from analysts.