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Buffett's company to become Bank of America's top shareholder
June 30, 2017 / 12:29 PM / 3 months ago

Buffett's company to become Bank of America's top shareholder

(Reuters) - Warren Buffett’s company will become the biggest shareholder in Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), after Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) on Friday invoked its right to acquire 700 million shares of the second-largest U.S. bank.

Berkshire will take a roughly 7 percent ownership stake, worth about $17 billion based on Bank of America’s closing price of $24.32 on Thursday.

The transaction will make Bank of America one of Berkshire’s largest equity investments, joining Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Coca-Cola Co (KO.N), Kraft Heinz Co (KHC.O) and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N), the nation’s third-largest bank.

It was made possible by Bank of America’s June 28 decision to boost its quarterly dividend to 12 cents per share from 7.5 cents, after passing the Federal Reserve’s latest “stress test” of its capacity to weather difficult markets.

Shares of Bank of America were up 16 cents at $24.48 in early trading on Friday.

Berkshire will exercise warrants to acquire the 700 million common shares when Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America increases its dividend, expected in the third quarter.

It will swap the $5 billion of Bank of America preferred shares it bought in August 2011 for the common stock, in a cash-free exchange.

Warren Buffett, chief executive officer and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, speaks at a National Auto Dealers Association event in New York March 31, 2015. Buffett said he would not raise interest rates significantly if he ran the Federal Reserve, at an automotive industry conference in New York along with chairman of the Berkshire Hathaway automotive dealer group, Larry Van Tuyl. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTR4VNWW

Berkshire is sitting on a roughly $12 billion paper profit, because Bank of America’s stock price is more than triple the $7.14 exercise price for the warrants.

After the swap is completed, Buffett will begin collecting $336 million of annual dividends, more than the $300 million he gets from the preferred shares, which have a 6 percent dividend.

Berkshire is also the largest shareholder in Wells Fargo, which sends Buffett close to $800 million of annual dividends.

A Bank of America Merrill Lynch sign is seen on a building that houses its offices in Singapore May 17, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Chong

The billionaire investor’s Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate also owns more than 90 businesses such as the Geico car insurer, Dairy Queen ice cream and BNSF railroad.

Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s chief executive, accepted Buffett’s investment when many investors worried whether the lender would have enough capital.

The bank was only about midway through a multi-year process to clean up its balance sheet, litigation and regulatory probes, largely from its purchases of Countrywide Financial Corp and Merrill Lynch & Co. That process cost more than $70 billion (53.93 billion pounds).

Buffett has often praised Moynihan’s leadership, telling CNBC in September 2015 that Moynihan resuscitated a bank that had been a “terrible mess.”

Bank of America’s current largest shareholder is Vanguard Group, whose 652.4 million shares give it a 6.6 percent stake, Reuters data show.

Reporting By Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Lauren Tara LaCapra; Editing by Anil D'Silva, Bernard Orr

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