August 12, 2021 | Volume 13, Issue 1
Note: This article, "Berkshire Hathaway Scraps Pipeline Purchase Because of Antitrust Concerns" makes an excellent companion piece to discuss with “Justice Department Opposition Kills Major Insurance Merger."
Berkshire Hathaway Scraps Pipeline Purchase Because of Antitrust Concerns
Warren Buffett may be one of the richest people on the planet, but even the Oracle of Omaha has to recognize the power of the United States government.
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway announced recently it was scrapping plans to buy a big natural gas pipeline for more than $1.7 billion because of antitrust concerns.
Oil Giant Dominion Energy (D) already completed the sale of gas transmission assets to Berkshire Hathaway’s energy subsidiary in November. But Dominion said the plan to sell its Questar Pipelines business to Buffett’s firm was canceled because of “ongoing uncertainty associated with achieving clearance from the Federal Trade Commission” for that part of the deal.
Questar operates mainly in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. As a result, there may have been FTC concerns about overlap with the Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary PacifiCorp, which owns the Rocky Mountain Power energy company that serves customers in Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho.
Dominion said in November when the initial part of the deal was finalized, it had already received approximately $1.3 billion in cash from Berkshire in anticipation of the full sale being completed. Dominion also said it was planning to transfer about $430 million in Questar debt to Berkshire once the deal closed.
Now that the Questar sale is off the table, Dominion said it will begin a competitive process to sell the business to another bidder, adding that it hopes to complete a deal by the end of this year.
The decision to terminate the pipeline sale comes just days after President Joe Biden signed an executive order that calls for more scrutiny on mergers — including deals already completed — as well as more measures to promote competition in the US economy.
The cancellation of the Questar transaction is a minor blow to Berkshire, a sprawling conglomerate that owns businesses ranging from Geico, Dairy Queen, Duracell, and Fruit of the Loom to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and NetJets.
Berkshire’s energy subsidiary generated $4.8 billion in sales during the first quarter of 2021, about 7.5% of the company’s total sales. But the energy business is strategically very important to the firm’s future.
Greg Abel, the current chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Energy and the vice chairman for Berkshire’s non-insurance operations, has been picked by Buffett to eventually take over as Berkshire CEO once the 90-year old Buffett either retires or passes away.