Friday, July 31, 2009

BYD Doesn't Really Need Buffet's Money

Buffet's Midas Touch is Enough

A story appearing on Bloomberg's website yesterday reported that Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway had already earned a US$1 billion paper profit on shares in Hong Kong listed, Chinese automaker BYD.

What makes this interesting is that, as of yesterday, Berkshire Hathaway (or more precisely, Berkshire's subsidiary Mid-American Energy) had yet to actually purchase any of BYD's shares. Only on July 30 did BYD receive approval from the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) to sell the shares to Buffet's company.

Since the joint announcement by Buffet and BYD last September 27, the value of BYD's shares have increased nearly fivefold -- before Buffet had invested a single dime in BYD stock. Apparently BYD only needed for the world to see that Warren Buffet approved in the direction the company is going to benefit from his Midas touch.

Of course, there is more credit to be handed out. BYD's sales of 176,814 vehicles in the first half of 2009 more than doubled their sales in the same period last year. Credit can also be given to China's State Council whose 50% tax break on small engine passenger cars have boosted sales of China's domestic automakers. BYD's F3 (the gasoline model) is China's fourth most popular passenger car.

A New Shanghai Bubble?

Unfortunately, there may have also been some irrational exuberance at work. China's stock market has been one of the best performing in the world so far this year, and this has also provided some lift to the Hong Kong market. Analysts are concerned that the sudden resumption of IPOs may have unleashed pent-up demand and begun to inflate a stock market bubble.

And speaking of IPOs, BYD is also considering one of its own on the Shanghai market. This will be a key for the growth of the company as Chinese auto companies may only draw 50 percent of their capital from overseas sources. And despite the fact that Hong Kong now belongs to China, capital raised on its stock market is still considered to be "overseas".

While the run up in BYD's Hong Kong stock price is certainly welcomed by the company, this will increase pressure on them to raise more funds on the mainland. Now that the CSRC has turned on the tap again, there is apparently a lot of money waiting on the sidelines, eager for more IPOs. Two other Chinese auto companies, Chery and Lifan, are also considering IPOs.

But what will happen when the CSRC turns off the tap again? I'm afraid the CSRC will soon discover they are riding a tiger.