“I think Henry might tell you today that part of what was driving him subconsciously was the desire to win. The single most deadliest sin that you could have in the acquisitions business.” —Bryan Burrough, Author “Barbarians at the Gate”
Warren Buffett wrote about RJR Nabisco as a major arbitrage position in the Berkshire Hathaway’s letter to shareholders for fiscal year 1988, as follows:
At yearend, our only major arbitrage position was 3,342,000 shares of RJR Nabisco with a cost of $281.8 million and a market value of $304.5 million. In January we increased our holdings to roughly four million shares and in February we eliminated our position. About three million shares were accepted when we tendered our holdings to KKR, which acquired RJR, and the returned shares were promptly sold in the market. Our pre-tax profit was a better-than-expected $64 million. Earlier, another familiar face turned up in the RJR bidding contest: Jay Pritzker, who was part of a First Boston group that made a tax-oriented offer. To quote Yogi Berra; “It was deja vu all over again.” During most of the time when we normally would have been purchasers of RJR, our activities in the stock were restricted because of Salomon’s participation in a bidding group. Customarily, Charlie and I, though we are directors of Salomon, are walled off from information about its merger and acquisition work. We have asked that it be that way: The information would do us no good and could, in fact, occasionally inhibit Berkshire’s arbitrage operations. However, the unusually large commitment that Salomon proposed to make in the RJR deal required that all directors be fully informed and involved. Therefore, Berkshire’s purchases of RJR were made at only two times: first, in the few days immediately following management’s announcement of buyout plans, before Salomon became involved; and considerably later, after the RJR board made its decision in favor of KKR. Because we could not buy at other times, our directorships cost Berkshire significant money.
Disclosure: I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company or individual mentioned in this article. I have no positions in any stocks mentioned.