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Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway buys P&G's Duracell battery unit

The transaction announced on Thursday helps P&G Chief Executive AG Lafley streamline his company by shedding slow-growing brands.

Duracell gives Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett a familiar name to add to his company's stable of more than 80 businesses. (Photo: Reuters) Duracell gives Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett a familiar name to add to his company's stable of more than 80 businesses. (Photo: Reuters)

Berkshire Hathaway has agreed to acquire Procter & Gamble's Duracell battery unit in a complex transaction that lets Berkshire Chairman Warren Buffett buy a business he has supported for two decades and shave his company's tax bill.

Rather than pay cash, Berkshire will give P&G US $4.7 billion of the shares it now owns in the world's largest consumer products company. P&G will infuse US $1.8 billion in cash into Duracell before the expected closing in the second half of 2015.

The transaction announced on Thursday helps P&G Chief Executive AG Lafley streamline his Cincinnati-based company by shedding slow-growing brands and focus on about 80 brands that generate most of its profit and revenue. P&G's better-known products include Tide laundry detergent and Pampers diapers.

Buffett, meanwhile, avoids a big tax bill that Nebraska-based conglomerate Berkshire might have incurred if it sold its P&G shares. Both P&G and Berkshire shares hit a record high this week.

Buying Duracell is a "brilliant move," said Doug Kass, who runs Seabreeze Partners Management in Florida, and is a longtime Berkshire critic who is selling its shares short.

"Warren loves mature and durable consumer brands that produce predictable cash flow. Duracell fits the bill," Kass added. "And accomplishing this in a tax-efficient transaction."

Berkshire has said it paid just US $336 million for its 1.9 per cent stake in P&G, equal to 52.8 million shares on June 30.

Assuming a 35 per cent tax rate on corporate capital gains, the swap could save Berkshire more than US $1 billion, on top of tax savings from two similar transactions earlier in 2014.

Berkshire's income tax bill was US $8.95 billion in 2013, or 31 per cent of pre-tax earnings.

NOT A GOOD SIGN

Duracell, whose batteries are known for their copper-colored tops, gives Buffett a familiar name to add to Berkshire's stable of more than 80 businesses, including Benjamin Moore paint, the Dairy Queen ice cream chain and Heinz ketchup.

"I have always been impressed by Duracell, as a consumer and as a long-term investor in P&G and Gillette," Buffett said in a statement.

Some analysts questioned why Berkshire views Duracell as a good fit, while P&G does not.

While Duracell has more than one-fourth of the global market for batteries, demand has slackened amid the growth in smartphones and other devices that rely on rechargeable power sources.

"It is a good thing that P&G is moving swiftly to divest its non-core brands," Sanford Bernstein analyst Ali Dibadj said. "I don't take it as a good sign that Buffett would rather own Duracell than P&G."

Buffett's assistant did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

"WILLING AND EAGER"

Berkshire has owned P&G stock since P&G bought Gillette Co in 2005. Buffett had invested in Gillette since 1989.

Buffett was about halfway through a 14-year stint on Gillette's board when the company agreed to buy Duracell for US $7 billion in stock in 1996. That's more than twice of what Berkshire is paying, after accounting for the cash infusion.

Buffett prefers owning businesses, especially if they are easy to understand and have strong competitive advantages, to the underlying stock.

Earlier in 2014, Buffett swapped stock of Phillips 66 for a unit that makes chemicals for pipelines, and stock of Graham Holdings, which once published the Washington Post, for a Miami TV station and other assets.

Buffett has plenty of ammunition to buy more businesses: Berkshire had US $62.38 billion in cash as of September 30.

P&G will take a non-cash charge of 28 cents per share to write down goodwill and intangible assets, and adjust results for the 2014 financial year to reflect Duracell as a discontinued operation.

Shares of Energizer Holdings, Duracell's main rival, rose as much as 4.7 per cent to a record high before easing to US $128.43, up 2.6 per cent.

UBS household products analyst Stephen Powers said private equity investors might look for value in Energizer, given how Buffett proved "willing and eager" to buy Duracell.

Goldman Sachs, Jones Day, and Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft advised P&G.

(Reuters)