Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sanborn Map Company - 1960

McGill's library has a collection of the Moody's manuals going back to 1950. My natural reaction when I discovered this fact was to look up some of Warren Buffett's investments from the Buffett Partnership days. He has talked about Sanborn Map Company several times at his annual meetings and it was mentioned in the 1960 Buffett Partnership letter. From the 1960 letter:

Last year mention was made of an investment which accounted for a very high and unusual proportion (35%) of our new assets along with the comment that I had some hope this investment would be concluded in 1960. This hope materialized. The history of an investment of this magnitude may be of interest you.

Sanborn Map Co. is engaged in the publication and continuous revision of extremely detailed maps of all cities in the United States. For example, the volumes mapping Omaha would weigh perhaps fifty pounds and provide minute details on each structure. The map would be revised by the paste-over method of showing new construction, changed occupancy, new fire protected facilities, changed structural materials, etc. These revisions would be done approximately annually and a new map would be published every twenty or thirty years when further paste-over became impractical. The cost of keeping the map revised to the Omaha customer would run around $100 a year.
There was considerable opposition on the Board to change of any type, particularly when initiated by an “outsider,” although management was in complete accord with our plan and a similar plan had been recommended by Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Management Experts. To avoid a proxy fight (which very probably would not have been forthcoming and which we would have been certain of winning) and to avoid time delay with a large portion of Sanborn’s money tied up in blue chip stocks which I didn’t care for at current prices, a plan was evolved taking out all stockholders at fair value who wanted out. The SEC ruled favorably on the fairness of the plan. About 72% of the Sanborn stock, including 50% of the 1,600 stockholders, was exchanged for portfolio securities at fair value. The map business was left with over $1¼ million in government and municipal bonds as a reserve find, and a potential corporate capital gains tax of over $1million was eliminated. The remaining stockholders were left with a slightly improved asset value, substantially higher earnings per share, and an increased dividend rate.

It is easy to see that the stock is trading at less than the market value of the investment portfolio. Situations akin to this are a rarity these days, although if you flip over enough stones you can find a few in the smaller capitalization area.

More to come.

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