AIN Blog: NetJets’ Big Buy – A View From Outside

 - June 14, 2012, 6:18 AM
Warren Buffett
NetJets' $9.6 billion order for business aircraft is a vote of confidence for a battered industry.

Like most professionals of advancing years, I get fairly inundated with offers of newsletters from financial advisors and stock pickers. One of them is Stephen Leeb’s The Cash Cow. Into my email box yesterday dropped the latest Cash Cow bulletin, headlined “Buffett’s Big Bet,” and it is wildly enthusiastic about the almost $10 billion purchase of business jets by Warren Buffett’s NetJets, announced on Monday.

This is a big thumbs up from someone who also predicts (and I quote), “The World Is Collapsing—But now there’s a simple way to dodge the damage” and “The Free Ride Is Over—The dollar will soon be devalued and replaced—China has called for the creation of a new currency to replace the dollar as the world’s standard.”

Assuming that Buffett’s hand is firmly on the NetJets tiller, Leeb sees the buy as perhaps the finest example ever of Buffett the contrarian pulling the trigger: “Warren Buffett has proved over several decades that he is one of the most successful contrarians of all time. He knows instinctively that things are cheaper when no one wants them than when they’re in high demand (a simple concept unfortunately lost on many investors) and that getting a low valuation in a cyclical company is like a gift from above for those patient enough to see the cycle shift through to the other side. He’s done it with all manner of businesses—railroads, beverages, banks, etc. And now he’s doing it with business jets.”

Leeb surmises that given the slump in private aviation, NetJets is “undoubtedly paying significantly lower than list,” adding that “if ever there was an example of smart money anticipating a turn in a cycle far ahead of the conventional wisdom, this is it… All in all, within five years we think Wall Street will view this deal as one of the shrewdest Buffett has ever done.

“The key thing about this particular contrarian play is that Buffett is not betting on fat cats in the U.S. & Europe flying in those jets, although they are certainly important to NetJets’ business. Instead, Buffett understands the perfect confluence of events taking shape here: a severe recession in developed markets—where the jets are made—has driven prices in the corporate aviation market into the cellar. At the same time, emerging markets, where the jets are being used, are creating new members of the 0.1% at an astounding pace.”

So there’s a snapshot from outside our industry of what we inside the industry see as a welcome vote of confidence in battered business aviation’s future and a shot in the arm with a jumbo syringe for two OEMs—Bombardier and Cessna. Those of us in the industry are also wondering what trade-in pain Bombardier and Cessna will have to endure as the cost of sealing the deals. NetJets chairman and CEO Jordan Hansell declined to elaborate when asked by AIN’s Chad Trautvetter during the Monday-evening press conference.

At the NBAA regional forum at Teterboro last week, I floated Leeb’s concerns about a growing global effort to dethrone the dollar to an experienced business-jet broker who has spent his long career dealing internationally in U.S. dollars. His response: “When the global language is Chinese, only then will I be worried.”