The Shocking Reason You Missed Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.A)’s Bull Run

Since November, shares of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) have soared by more than 15%, easily outpacing the roughly 10% gain of the broad-based S&P 500, of which Berkshire is a member. But if you invest in the S&P through an index-tracking ETF, you may not have enjoyed as much of Berkshire’s big gains as you might expect.

To understand why, you have to look at how the companies behind the market’s popular benchmarks set up their indexes. In the case of Berkshire and several other companies, a little-known rule that Standard & Poor’s follows in calculating the S&P 500 leaves them underrepresented in comparison to their total size.

How Slower Growth, Falling Oil Will Boost This AirlineWhy S&P underweights insider-held companies
The culprit here is a change in methodology that S&P implemented in 2005. S&P made the decision to change its indexes to use float-adjusted market capitalization weighting, following in the footsteps of competing index providers MSCI Inc (NYSE:MSCI) and FTSE 100 (INDEXFTSE:UKX). Using float-adjusted weights, large blocks of stock that insider owners and other big investors own are excluded from the calculation of a company’s market cap. As a Yahoo! Finance article explained recently, most of the time, that doesn’t have much impact on most big companies, but when insiders have retained a big portion of a company’s shares — as with Berkshire due to Warren Buffett’s 21% stake in the company — it can make a huge difference. In general, the rule leads to companies with heavy insider ownership getting penalized.

The justification for using float-adjusted weights is closely connected to the desire to make index investing as easy as possible to implement. Without adjusting for actual share counts available for purchase, index ETFs could find themselves in a position in which it would be impossible to pick up all the shares of stock they would need in order to track their underlying index correctly.

How you’ve missed out
The problem with using float-adjusted weighting, however, is that insider-owned companies have often outperformed their peers. Consider some of the stocks that have the biggest adjustments to their actual market caps due to the float-adjusted weight rule:

  • Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ:ORCL)‘s Larry Ellison owns a 23.5% stake in the business software giant worth nearly $39 billion. With the stock having returned an average of more than 21% annually over the past 20 years, S&P investors would have missed out on huge gains if the index company had made its float-adjusted shift earlier than 2005.
  • For Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) , the 19% stake that Jeff Bezos owns is worth more than $23 billion. Since 2003, the stock has risen 12-fold, with 29% annual gains over the past five years getting heavily discounted by the float-adjustment rule.
  • The insider team of Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt together own more than 15% of Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), with even greater voting control. The search giant doesn’t have as long a history as its peers on the list, but the company’s better than 30% gain over the past year hasn’t gotten full credit in its influence on the S&P’s return.

Moreover, it isn’t always a traditional insider individual who affects a company’s float. With Visa Inc (NYSE:V) , some of the banks that initially formed the formerly private card-processing company have retained their shares, and those blocks get discounted for float-adjustment purposes.

What should you do?
If you want to get full exposure to companies with high insider ownership, you have a couple of choices. You can buy additional shares of the individual companies you’re interested in, manually adjusting for the shortfall within your index ETF to give yourself the allocation you see as proper.

Another alternative is to use index funds that use other metrics than market cap. With equal-weight ETFs and fundamentally weighted funds that use weightings based on things like earnings or dividends, you won’t face the float-adjustment factor.

Either way, being aware of the problem is the key to taking smart action. Even if the impact is minimal, knowing about unusual things like the float-adjustment rule will let you address it if you think action is warranted.

The article The Shocking Reason You Missed Berkshire’s Bull Run originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Berkshire Hathaway, and Visa. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Berkshire Hathaway, and Oracle.

Copyright © 1995 – 2013 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Insider Monkey Headlines
Insider Monkey Small Cap Strategy
Insider Monkey Small Cap Strategy

Insider Monkey beat the market by 44 percentage points in 21 months Learn how!

Lists

The Top 10 States With Fastest Internet Speeds

10 Best Places to Visit in USA in August

Top 10 Cities to Visit Before You Die

Top 10 Genetically Modified Food In the US

15 Highest Grossing Movies Opening Weekend

5 Best Poker Books For Beginners

10 Strategies Hedge Funds Use to Make Huge Returns

Top 10 Fast Food Franchises to Buy

10 Best Places to Visit in Canada

Best Summer Jobs for Teachers

10 Youngest Hedge Fund Billionaires

Top 10 One Hit Wonders of the 90s

Fastest Growing Cities In America

Top 10 U.S. Cities for Freelancers

Top 9 Most Popular Free iPhone Apps

Top 10 Least Expensive Private Business Schools in the US

Top 15 Most Expensive Countries in the World – 2014

Top Businesses to Invest In

Top 5 Things You Might Be Doing Wrong With Your Business

Top 5 Strategic Technology Trends in 2014

Top Rags to Riches Stories

Parenting Behavior That Promotes Future Leaders

Top 5 Mistakes Made by Small Businesses

Top 5 Most Common and Potentially Devastating Financial Blunders

Top 5 Highest Paying Jobs for Web Designers

Top 6 Most Respected Professions that Also Pay Well

Top 5 Pitfalls Investors Should Avoid

Top 6 Lawyers and Policy Makers Under 30

Top 6 New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

Top 7 Locations to Check in on Facebook

Top 5 Mistakes made by Rookie eBay Sellers

Top 7 eBook Publishers in 2013

Top 6 Health Industry Trends in 2014

5 Lessons for Entrepreneurs from Seth Godin

Top 5 Success Tips from Jordan Belfort – the Wolf of Wall Street

Best Master’s in Finance Degree Programs

Top 6 Earning Celebrities Over 50

The most expensive sports to play

Top 7 Earning Celebrities Under 25

Best 7 Online Courses to Take: Free Finance MOOCs

Top 6 Bad Habits that Promote Failure

20 Most Valuable Soccer Teams in the World in 2013

12 Most Expensive Countries for Foreign Students

Top 30 Most Influential Women in the World

Top 20 Most Expensive New Year Eve Shows

Top 5 Best Vocational Careers

Top 10 Jobs for 2014 by Salary Gain (Predictions)

Top 5 Digital Trends for 2014

Top 6 Things You Can Do To Increase Your Productivity

Top 9 Trending Smartphones in 2013

Subscribe

Enter your email:

Delivered by FeedBurner

X

Thanks! An email with instructions is sent to !

Your email already exists in our database. Click here to go to your subscriptions

Insider Monkey returned 47.6% in its first year! Wondering How?

Download a complete edition of our newsletter for free!