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Apple and Buffett saw value, and acted
[SAN FRANCISCO] Apple Inc was not the only one to leap on a chance to buy its stock at a fat discount last quarter as Warren Buffett stepped in to scoop up an additional 75 million shares for Berkshire Hathaway at the same time.
Between them - the two biggest players in the iPhone maker's shares - they bought nearly one of every 10 Apple shares traded during the quarter, according to Thomson Reuters calculations.
But the discount window did not stay open long, with Apple's stock back at a record high above US$183 on Friday after trading in the mid-US$150s for part of the first quarter.
The recovery in the share prices makes it less opportune for Apple's corporate treasury to execute purchases as it proceeds with an additional US$100 billion of buybacks in an effort to further winnow down its mountain of cash.
Apple bought more than US$23 billion of its own shares in the first three months of the year at an average price of US$171.48, the company said this week. A Buffett representative on Friday confirmed Berkshire Hathaway increased its stake in Apple by 75 million shares, for which the company looks to have paid between US$12 billion and US$13 billion, based on the stock's trading range during the period.
Funds from the repatriation of Apple's US$252 billion overseas cash hoard arrived at an convenient time for traders working on behalf of Apple. The Cupertino, California, company's massive share purchase in the March quarter coincided with a 10 per cent slump in the S&P 500 between Jan 26 and Feb 8.
That drop raised fears across Wall Street that a nine-year bull market was ending and made it easier for big players amassing shares in a company to find willing sellers.
Apple shares fell even more than the broader market, tumbling over 13 peR cent from their record high close. But while the S&P 500 has remained in correction territory, Apple shares quickly recovered, and it seems the company and Berkshire were there to help.
Mr Buffett, a billionaire bargain hunter, increased his company's stake to 240.3 million shares worth US$42.5 billion during first quarter.
At its low in February, the stock was available for as little as US$150, an 18 per cent discount to its current price.
On more than a third of the trading days during the March quarter, Apple's stock traded below its volume weighted average price, or VWAP, for the prior 60 days.
On Feb 8, when it closed at US$155.15, the low for the quarter, it was at a nearly 10 per cent discount from its 60-day average VWAP. The stock had not been available at such a large discount to its prevailing average since May 2016, which happens to be when Mr Buffett bought his first-ever shares of Apple.
At its close of US$183.83 on Friday, however, Apple now stands at a premium of nearly 7 per cent to its 60-day VWAP of US$172.11.
Prior to last quarter, Apple's largest-ever quarterly repurchase occurred in early 2014, a year after it initiated its first US$210 billion buyback program. The stock traded at a discount to its 60-day VWAP through much of the quarter, and Apple spent US$18 billion to buy up its own shares, according to filings.