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Warren Buffett’s $6 billion investment in Japan is not as unusual as it might seem

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On Monday, Berkshire Hathaway, the giant holding company chaired by Warren Buffett, announced it had acquired a roughly 5% stake totaling approximately $6 billion in five of Japan’s largest trading houses. The purchase is the latest of Buffett’s bids to expand overseas, as his $520 billion investment firm remains heavily U.S.-weighted.

“I am delighted to have Berkshire Hathaway participate in the future of Japan and the five companies we have chosen for investment,” Buffett, 90, said in a statement announcing the investment, which sent shares in all five companies up on Monday. Berkshire Hathaway had spent the past 12 months slowly acquiring its stake in the five firms: Itochu, Marubeni, Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Sumitomo.

The so-called Oracle of Omaha typically invests closer to home, with $125 billion of Berkshire Hathaway’s assets tied up in Apple alone. As such, shopping in Japan appears peculiar but, based on the five company’s valuations and holdings, Buffett’s M.O. remains the same.

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Four of the five Japanese firms Buffett has bought into are undervalued, with a market cap lower than the value of their assets, and most of them have a substantial amount of cash on hand. That makes them a cheap and stable investment opportunity.

Buffett often holds long-term passive stakes in profitable businesses and, according to the company’s statement, Berkshire Hathaway intends to “hold its Japanese investments for the long term” too.

“This is a continuation of Buffett spreading his international wings,” Stephen Innes, chief global analyst at online forex trader Axicorp, said in a note Monday. Innes cites Buffett’s purchase of shares in Canadian gold miner Barrick earlier this month as proof of Buffett buying abroad.

Gold prices have surged this year, as investors spooked by the pandemic seek a safe haven against the U.S. dollar. Innes thinks Buffett is behaving in a similar way, too, saying he “may be diversifying away from the U.S. dollar.”

Expectations that Buffett would make an investment in Japan have been brewing since 2011, when the investor made his first trip to Japan. Then, last year, Berkshire Hathaway raised $4 billion through a yen-denominated bond sale—the largest ever yen-denominated issuance by a non-Japanese institution.

In its statement, Hathaway also notes that it has 625 billion of yen-denominated bonds set to mature between 2023 and 2060 and so only has “minor exposure to yen/dollar movements.”

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