$34.9 million in Class B shares among Buffett gifts

Darker colors on this map of southern Africa show increased “evapotranspiration” of water during the last two months of 2015 compared with the average of the previous five years. The water loss means crop shortages, Earth Environment Monitoring of the Netherlands said.

It’s widely known that Warren Buffett pledged most of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and four Buffett family foundations. He gives them billions of dollars each year.

But he gives elsewhere, too, without saying where the money goes.

Last week Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the Omaha-based conglomerate that Buffett heads as chairman and chief executive, listed his other gifts made since July 2015. (The Securities and Exchange Commission requires insiders of publicly traded companies to disclose stock transactions.)

Based on the closing prices on the days he gave away the 266,172 shares of Class B Berkshire stock, the total comes to about $34.9 million.

Of that, two individuals received $13,560 worth of stock each. The rest went to charities or charitable foundations, given on 11 different days. The filing didn’t name the charities or say how many charities received stock.

The two largest gifts were for 80,000 shares each. The smallest were for 100 shares.

At one point this month, Buffett had only 36,382 shares of Class B stock left, worth about $4.5 million. But he converted 139 Class A shares into 208,500 Class B shares, replenishing his supply of stock for making donations.

If Buffett converted all of his Class A shares, he would have about 481,500,000 Class B shares, worth about $60.2 billion.

Dry in South Africa

Part of Buffett’s foundation money supports a 9,200-acre farm in South Africa’s Limpopo province.

The research-oriented Ukulima Farm is funded through the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, headed by his elder son.

Earth Environment Monitoring of the Netherlands says weather patterns influenced by El Niño are drying up southern Africa.

A map based on data from Meteosat, an array of European satellites, shows the rate of water loss — known as evapotranspiration — during the last two months of 2015 relative to a five-year average.

Evapotranspiration reduces the amount of water available for plants to grow and is the best indicator of agricultural drought, the Netherlands group said. The World Food Program says 14 million people in the region are facing hunger because of an impending crop shortage.

The Buffett-supported farm plays host to university researchers, including scientists from Texas A&M University, who study agriculture in the developing world, including irrigation, soil types, seed varieties and farming techniques.

All the satellite data and agricultural research comes down to a simple situation this year, Howard Buffett told me in an email:

“Our farm in S.A. has no crop production this year. We have center pivots. However, no water :-(”

List-worthy companies

Berkshire’s purchase of Precision Castparts Corp., completed last week, removes the Portland, Oregon, high-tech industrial manufacturer from the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

To fill out the group, S&P Dow Jones selected Citizens Financial Group Inc., a banking company based in Providence, Rhode Island.

But Precision Castparts’ influence in the S&P 500 Index won’t be missing. It’s just hidden, within another company on the list: Berkshire Hathaway.

Buffett has pointed out that if the companies owned by Berkshire were independent, 9½ of them would be listed on the Fortune 500. (Berkshire owns one-half of Kraft Heinz Co.) The magazine ranks companies according to annual revenue, placing Berkshire fourth.

Precision Castparts’ $10 billion in annual revenue made it No. 302 out of the 500, so now Berkshire owns 10½ companies that would qualify for the magazine’s list.

Buffett vs. Musk

With a cartoon of Buffett wrestling Elon Musk on its cover, Bloomberg’s latest business magazine describes the battle between Berkshire’s NV Energy division in Nevada and Musk’s SolarCity Corp. solar panel business.

The story by Noah Buhayar describes the tactics used by the two sides in their campaigns to win Public Utilities Commission rules that favor their interests.

The commission essentially sided with NV Energy by cutting the monthly rates that solar customers receive for generating electricity that is fed back into the region’s power grid. Musk’s SolarCity has said it would pull out of the market because the new rate structure would eliminate the financial incentive for installing the rooftop solar panels.

The corporate fight gained attention in part because of the seemingly direct confrontation between Buffett and Musk, as well as being a clear conflict between renewable energy and traditional power generation.

Last week, NV Energy said it would propose allowing existing solar panel-owning customers to continue their old fee structure, which would restore the incentives for generating their own electricity, at least for a time.

In a press release, NV Energy President Paul Caudill said the grandfathering proposal “is being offered in recognition of NV Energy’s desire to treat all customers, including those who had previously made a decision to install rooftop solar, fairly.”

The proposal includes a 20-year transition period to the new payment system.

The Omaha World-Herald is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1080, steve.jordon@owh.com

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