Warren Buffett loaned about $300 million to Harley-Davidson during the financial disaster.
The motorcycle maker wanted money in the face of softer demand and liquidity drying up.
Buffett made about $150 million in 5 years, however might have raked in $1 billion proudly owning the inventory.
Warren Buffett loaned simply over $300 million to Harley-Davidson in February 2009, when the storied motorcycle maker was reeling from a one-two punch of weaker demand and a money crunch during the financial disaster.
A couple of weeks earlier, Harley-Davidson had unveiled a three-part plan to climate the downturn. It centered on investing in its model, chopping bills, and discovering the cash to cowl its financing division’s roughly $1 billion in yearly prices.
The first two parts translated into focusing on youthful and extra various riders; closing vegetation, combining operations, and outsourcing some distribution; and shedding about 1,100 staff or about 12% of its workforce.
However, paralyzed credit score markets made it difficult to fulfill the third a part of the plan. The firm in the end determined to borrow from its largest shareholder, Davis Selected Advisers, in addition to Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
The pair successfully loaned it a combined $600 million for 5 years at a hefty 15% annual rate of interest.
“It was the bridge we wanted to get us via a tough time,” Harley-Davidson’s finance chief, John Olin, told Fortune in 2014.
The producer wanted the money to proceed providing financing to motorcycle dealerships and retail clients, and to preserve its manufacturing strains rolling, Olin continued.
The high-interest mortgage was its solely choice to borrow cash with out giving up a stake in the firm, he added.
‘I knew sufficient to lend them cash’
“Credit remained nearly nonexistent,” Alice Schroeder stated about that interval in “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life.”
Schroeder added: “Buffett lent at rates of interest that in some cases bordered on usurious.”
The famed investor additionally displayed his ruthlessness when he refused Harley-Davidson’s request to repay its mortgage early. Berkshire stated it was pleased with the agreed phrases, the firm advised Fortune.
Buffett likely netted a stable $150 million in revenue from the mortgage. Yet he might have raked in over $1 billion by investing $300 million in Harley-Davidson inventory as a substitute, as its shares greater than quadrupled in worth between 2009 and 2014.
A shareholder requested Buffett why he opted for debt as a substitute of fairness during Berkshire’s annual meeting in 2010.
“I knew sufficient to lend them cash; I did not know sufficient to purchase the fairness,” the investor replied.
“I type of like a enterprise the place your clients tattoo your identify on their chest,” he continued. “But determining the financial worth of that … I’m undecided even going out and questioning these guys I’d be taught a lot from them.”
Buffett added that he made the mortgage as a result of he felt assured at the time that “a) Harley-Davidson was not going out of enterprise, and that b) 15% was going to look fairly damned enticing.”
Keeping it easy
Berkshire made “excellent cash” by merely figuring out Harley-Davidson would not go broke and lending it some much-needed money, Buffett stated at the assembly.
Buying its inventory would have posed harder questions equivalent to whether or not the motorcycle market would shrink or the firm’s margins would endure from the financial downturn, he added.
The Harley-Davidson mortgage and different crisis-era offers showcased how Berkshire’s coverage of keeping some cash in the bank and by no means going all in on shares can repay handsomely, Buffett famous.
“We felt excellent about the place that philosophy left us,” he stated. “We really might do issues at a time when most individuals had been paralyzed, and we’ll preserve operating it that manner.”
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