An Analysis Of Lexmark
In 2005, Berkshire Hathaway bought about a million shares of Lexmark. I haven’t followed this story closely, but I assume the stock was purchased by Lou Simpson rather than Warren Buffett. I have only two reasons for believing this: the total purchase was small relative to Berkshire’s investable assets and the Lexmark purchase is typical of Simpson’s investment philosophy (or at least, what little I can glean about his investment philosophy from his past purchases). Regardless of who actually makes the purchases, a new Berkshire holding always draws a lot of commentary.
The commentary on Lexmark has been almost uniformly negative. Even many value investors have a very dim view of Lexmark at these prices. Now, I am not a contrarian investor. Psychology and sentiment do not enter into my considerations at all. I’ve bought stocks trading near five year lows, and I’ve bought stocks trading near five year highs. I just try to be rational. I’m not afraid to agree with the consensus, if it’s an accurate representation of reality. Here, it isn’t. The model of Lexmark that has emerged in my mind over the past few weeks bears little resemblance to the Lexmark I’ve seen described elsewhere.
Most of the negative comments about Lexmark have focused on the consumer segment. Yet, more than 75% of Lexmark’s profits come from the business segment. The business segment is Lexmark’s franchise. There, the company has managed to build a moat, not a very wide moat, but a moat nonetheless. Lexmark is the only focused, integrated printing company of any consequence. It understands its business customers’ needs, and provides specially tailored solutions that none of its competitors can offer. Worldwide, some very large companies use Lexmark’s products for some very specialized tasks. Among these are retailers, banks, and pharmacies. Lexmark has complete control of their product including the printing technology itself and the software used to manage its printers (i.e., to interface with the user’s computer). Businesses that care about getting these specialized tasks done right (and getting them done cheap) use Lexmark.