Insight Into Warren Buffett's Strategy: Unveiling His 40 Million General Motors (GM) Shares and the Investment Implications

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK), led by fabled investor Warren Buffett, also fondly known as The Oracle of Omaha, owns 22 million General Motors Company (GM) shares, equating to a 1.6% stake in the legacy U.S. automaker.

A fundamentally robust company such as GM deserves its spot in a conglomerate's portfolio with a reputation for acquiring parts or the entirety of businesses that possess enduring competitive advantages and are likely to be aided by favorable economics in the long run.

On the back of a strong performance in the fiscal 2023 second quarter, the Detroit-headquartered auto giant has raised its guidance for 2023. The company raised its net income expectations for the fiscal from a high end of $9.9 billion to a high end of $10.7 billion. Its automotive division’s free cash flow is also expected to come between $7 billion and $9 billion, up from $5.5 billion to $7.5 billion.

In addition, GM said it is increasing cost-cutting measures through next year and now plans to cut $3 billion in expenditures compared with previous guidance of $2 billion. The financial outperformance driven by the booming traditional automotive business powered by highly profitable trucks and SUVs has enabled the company to ramp up its presence in the electric vehicle (EV) segment.

Consequently, GM reiterated that it would double EV production in the year's second half to 100,000 units. In addition to the long-awaited introduction of an electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck and EV versions of Chevy’s Equinox crossover and Blazer compact sport-utility vehicle, the company says it will reach 400,000 cumulative units of EV production by early 2024.

GM also anticipates that its EV business will reach profitability by 2025, with an EV production capacity of 1 million units in North America and EV revenue of roughly $50 billion.

In addition, the company is making itself future-ready by fixing supply-chain issues with measures such as a $60 million investment round in Mitra Chem, a California startup working on cheaper EV batteries. Mitra Chem aims to develop low-cost lithium iron phosphate batteries that can hold more power than current versions. If it’s successful, its batteries could appear in GM’s EVs later this decade.

GM is also developing its Ultium EV platform, which will help reduce costs and improve profitability. In addition, GM is diversifying to more potentially lucrative businesses such as Cruise, its driverless cab service, and BrightDrop, which is focused on helping businesses meet consumer demand for last-mile services.

All the above factors make GM an apparently solid bet in the automotive sector and a far cry from cash-strapped and debt-burdened EV upstarts that are struggling to keep themselves afloat amid increased borrowing cost due to sustained interest-rate hikes and EV price war that has been waged by Tesla, Inc. (TSLA).

The Flip Side

When asked about when to sell stocks, Buffett famously replied, “To break off relationships with people that I like and people that have joined me because they think it’s a permanent home, to do that simply because somebody waves a big check at me would be like selling one of my children.”

So when the legend, whose favorite holding period is forever, decides to cut his stake in GM, a business his company has owned since 2012, by almost half, it can only mean that either BRK is chronically short of funds and has been finding numerous opportunities to put them to better use or the economic characteristics of the business change in a big way.

Since BRK is sitting on a mountain of cash worth at least $147 billion, we can definitely count out the former possibility. As far as the latter is concerned, carmakers in the U.S. and Europe are once again under siege.

However, this time around, the war is on climate change, the goal is rapid decarbonization and energy transition, the battleground is smart, connected, and electric mobility solutions, and the invaders are from the other side of the Pacific, beyond the Sea of Japan.

Recently, after BYD Company Limited (BYDDY) delivered its five millionth electric vehicle, its founder Wang Chuanfu declared the “time has come for Chinese brands.” And he has good reason to be optimistic. Chinese automakers have access to its vast domestic market, abundant supplies of resources, such as rare earths, which are critical for energy transition, and a government keen on seeing its domestic brands compete globally.

China’s dominance in rare earth and other clean energy metals is back in the limelight after the recent export restriction on germanium and gallium. With the trade war between the U.S. and China intensifying amid restrictions on exports of semiconductor chips and investments in other cutting-edge technology by the former, the latter is expected to keep upping the ante.

This could hurt the prospects of Western car manufacturers as they might be compelled to deal with increased input costs on top of exchange-rate headwinds and credit crunch due to the Federal Reserve ratcheting up the benchmark borrowing cost to 5.25%-5.50% from nearly 0% in the space of 16 months. 

While carbon border tax and other protective measures could provide temporary shelter for besieged Western automakers, the beneficiaries stand to lose more if the Chinese government cuts off their access to the massive domestic market on which the Chinese automakers could always fall back upon encountering turbulence overseas.

Moreover, with Vietnamese EV-maker VinFast Auto Ltd. (VFS) surpassing the market capitalization of heavyweights, such as Ford Motor Company (F) and GM, in the words of VW chief Thomas Schaefer, “The roof is on fire,” and according to former Aston Martin chief executive Andy Palmer, manufacturers in Europe and the US face a “real and present danger” from the East.


GM, first added by BRK in 2012, now constitutes merely 0.2% of the conglomerate’s portfolio of marketable securities, which in turn is just a component of its holdings, which are comprised mainly of wholly owned businesses.

Therefore, instead of being denominator blind and jumping on the Buffett bandwagon, it could be wise for investors to hold their horses and verify if Western automakers can hold their own against Oriental challengers before making an investment decision.

Consumer Lawsuit Threatens to Shake Tesla (TSLA) Stock – What's at Stake?

Electric vehicle (EV) pioneer Tesla, Inc. (TSLA) has revolutionized the battery-electric vehicle market. Despite rising competition from legacy automakers, TSLA remains the top EV seller in the United States. During the year's first half, TSLA sold 336,892 vehicles, nearly 300,000 units higher than the second-largest EV seller.

However, the Austin, Texas-based automaker faces a lawsuit from three customers over its vehicles’ driving range estimates. The proposed class action lawsuit accuses the company of falsely advertising the driving ranges of its electric vehicles.

On August 2, 2023, the lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit alleges that TSLA “marketed its electric vehicles as having a grossly overvalued range in an effort to increase sales to consumers.” TSLA faces charges of fraud and breach of warranty, among others.

The lawsuit followed a Reuters article that alleged that TSLA had created a “Diversion Team” in Las Vegas to cancel as many range-related appointments as possible after its service centers got flooded with complaints from owners who expected a better performance from their vehicles based on the company’s advertised estimates and the projections displayed by the in-dash range meters of the vehicles.

The team aimed to divert as many appointments as possible to help save TSLA $1,000 per visit. The investigative article, which came out on July 27, 2023, also revealed how the company began exaggerating the range of its vehicles by rigging the range-estimating software years ago.

A person familiar with the matter said that the automaker had decided a decade ago that it would write algorithms for its range meter to show drivers rosy range projections on a full battery. He added that these optimistic range estimate directives came from CEO Elon Musk a decade ago.

The source said, “Elon wanted to show good range numbers when fully charged. When you buy a car off the lot seeing 350-mile, 400-mile range, it makes you feel good.” However, the news agency could not verify whether the automaker still uses algorithms to boost in-dash range estimates.

Earlier this year, TSLA was fined ₩2.85 billion ($2.13 million) by South Korean regulators as they found that their cars delivered as little as half their advertised range in cold weather. The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) found that TSLA cars driving range plunged in cold weather by up to 50.5% versus how they were advertised online.

TSLA’s stock has declined 17.2% in price over the past month. However, the stock is still up 89.1% year-to-date.

Here’s what could influence TSLA’s performance in the upcoming months:

Robust Financials

TSLA’s total revenues for the second quarter ended June 30, 2023, increased 47.2% year-over-year to $24.93 billion. Its non-GAAP net income attributable to common stockholders increased 20.2% year-over-year to $3.15 billion. Its adjusted EBITDA rose 22.7% year-over-year to $4.65 billion. The company’s non-GAAP EPS came in at $0.91, representing an increase of 19.7% year-over-year.

Mixed Analyst Estimates

TSLA’s EPS for fiscal 2023 is expected to decline 15.3% year-over-year to $3.45. On the other hand, its revenue for fiscal 2023 is expected to increase 22.9% year-over-year to $100.09 billion. Its EPS and revenue for fiscal 2024 are expected to increase 42.7% and 28.5% year-over-year to $4.92 and $128.66 billion, respectively.

Its EPS for the quarter ending September 30, 2023, declined 22.8% year-over-year to $0.81. Its revenue for the same quarter is expected to increase 16% year-over-year to $24.89 billion.

Stretched Valuation

In terms of forward EV/EBITDA, TSLA’s 41.69x is 324.2% higher than the 9.83x industry average. Likewise, its 7.42x forward EV/S is 519.5% higher than the 1.20x industry average. Its 69.58x forward non-GAAP P/E is 341.1% higher than the 15.78x industry average.

High Profitability

In terms of the trailing-12-month EBITDA margin, TSLA’s 17.86% is 66.4% higher than the 10.74% industry average. Likewise, its 12.97% trailing-12-month net income margin is 210.5% higher than the 4.18% industry average. Additionally, its 1.18x trailing-12-month asset turnover ratio is 18.5% higher than the 1x industry average.

Bottom Line

TSLA faces some severe allegations of fraud and breach of warranty. The class action lawsuit against the company could help customers get some money spent on the cars and probably force the automaker to change how it advertises its vehicles’ driving ranges.

However, the stock has not reacted too negatively to the headlines around the lawsuit. Recently, TSLA launched cheaper versions of its popular Model S and Model X vehicles in the United States, having a shorter range. This move comes after the automaker undertook price cuts in China on its Model Y and Model 3 vehicles. The company has been focusing on volume growth by cutting prices across its product range.

However, investors remain concerned over its falling gross margins as the company focuses on volume growth. Given the mixed analyst estimates and the possibility of a fine arising from the class action lawsuit, it could be wise to wait for a better entry point in the stock.

Will Toyota Motor (TM) Take Tesla’s Crown as the EV King?

Tesla, Inc. (TSLA) gained significantly from the world’s shift to cleaner modes of transportation. Due to its first-mover advantage, the company became the highest-selling electric vehicle (EV) company in the United States. However, its edge has been cut short as traditional automakers like Toyota Motor Corporation (TM) are making rapid inroads in the global EV market.

TM was again the world’s top-selling automaker last year, selling more than 10 million vehicles. After achieving massive success in the internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle segment, the Japanese automaker is transitioning from combustion engines to electric cars. During the first half of 2023, Toyota Motor North America sold 270,476 EVs, including hybrids, making up 26% of the total sales volume.

Moreover, the company sold 51,535 EVs in June, making up 26.4% of its total monthly sales. On June 13, 2023, TM held a technical briefing session, “Toyota Technical Workshop,” under the theme “Let’s Change the Future of Cars.” In the session, the automaker announced various new technologies to help it transform into a mobility company.

The company announced plans to sell 1.5 million EVs annually by 2026 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, aiming to reduce average CO2 emissions for the vehicles it sells worldwide by 50% or more by 2035 compared to 2019. TM also announced that it was evolving batteries with new technologies to power its next-generation battery electric vehicles (BEV) in 2026.

TM intends to enhance the performance of the popular liquid lithium-ion batteries by improving the energy density of square batteries. The next-generation BEV to be introduced in 2026 will have a cruising range of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).

Additionally, the bipolar structure battery used in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) is being adapted to the BEVs, helping the automaker provide customers with various battery options, from low-cost, popular batteries to high performance. However, the most prominent announcement from the company was that it was accelerating the development of solid-state batteries for BEVs.

Solid-state batteries are known to be more durable and long-lasting than traditional liquid lithium-ion batteries. The company is looking to mass produce such solid-state batteries to commercialize them by 2027-2028. Apart from batteries, the company also announced its plans related to hydrogen.
It is promoting external sales of fuel cells using Mirai’s hydrogen units, having already received offers for external sales of 100,000 units by 2030. The company also established a new organization called Hydrogen Factory which will make immediate decisions under one leader, from sales to development and production, all at once.

Furthermore, under its manufacturing axis, TM announced that it would start using Giga casting, a form of assembly-line automation under which the car body will be constructed from three main components in a new modular structure. Adopting giga casting will enable component integration, helping reduce vehicle development costs and factory investment.

Additionally, self-propelling production technology will reduce the processes and plant investment by half. For the first quarter, TM’s revenue came 7.2% above the consensus estimate. It sold 2.53 million Toyota and Lexus cars during the first quarter, rising 8.4% year-over-year, out of which 34% were hybrids and other electrified vehicles.

During its earnings announcement, the company said, “Sales volumes across all regions increased compared to the same period a year earlier due to productivity improvement efforts made together with suppliers.” The automaker maintained its operating income forecast of ¥3 trillion ($20.98 billion) for fiscal 2024. Also, its revenue is expected to come in at ¥38 trillion ($265.78 billion).

Here’s what could influence TM’s performance in the upcoming months:

Robust Financials

TM’s sales revenue for the first quarter ended June 30, 2023, increased 24.2% year-over-year to ¥10.55 trillion ($73.79 billion). The company’s operating income rose 93.7% over the prior-year quarter to ¥1.12 trillion ($7.83 billion). Its net income attributable to TM increased 78% year-over-year to ¥1.31 trillion ($9.16 billion). Also, its EPS came in at ¥96.74, representing an increase of 80.3% year-over-year.

Favorable Analyst Estimates

Analysts expect TM’s EPS for fiscal 2024 and 2025 to increase 602.4% and 0.5% year-over-year to $18.73 and $18.83. Its fiscal 2024 and 2025 revenue is expected to increase 2.7% and 2.7% year-over-year to $284.12 billion and $291.83 billion. Its revenue for the quarter ending September 30, 2023, is expected to increase 14.5% year-over-year to $71.26 billion.

Mixed Valuation

In terms of forward EV/Sales, TM’s 1.43x is 18.2% higher than the 1.21x industry average. Likewise, its 14.57x forward EV/EBIT is 3.5% higher than the 14.08x industry average.

On the other hand, its forward Price/Sales of 0.81x is 11.1% lower than the 0.91x industry average. Its 9.17x forward GAAP P/E is 44.2% lower than the 16.43x industry average.

High Profitability

In terms of the trailing-12-month net income margin, TM’s 7.72% is 84.3% higher than the 4.19% industry average. Likewise, its 12.62% trailing-12-month EBITDA margin is 18.5% higher than the industry average of 10.65%. Furthermore, the stock’s 9.23% trailing-12-month Capex/Sales is 184.9% higher than the industry average of 3.24%.

Bottom Line

TSLA’s dominance in the EV market is reducing as traditional automakers like TM are gaining market share. TM is serious about its electrification plans as it announced its ambitious EV strategy involving longer, more durable batteries, the use of Giga casting in its assembly lines, and its push to use hydrogen as an energy source.

TM’s long and successful history of making ICE cars, the company is likely to succeed in its EV endeavor. TM is also trading at a considerable discount to TSLA. Given its robust financials, favorable analyst estimates, and high profitability, I think TM is well-positioned to outperform TSLA.