In the comments on our last piece on Berkshire Hathaway’s very large derivative contracts we and Professor Pablo Triana learned that Warren Buffett treats the put options he sold between 2004 and 2008 as hard-to-value Level 3 liabilities that must be marked-to-model (or myth). See page 84 in the 2009 annual report.
That helps to explain why the quarterly mark-to-market losses Berkshire reported on the contracts were not larger, given big moves in currencies and equity indices in 2008 and 2009. But in resolving one mystery it created another, because valuing large put options is typically straightforward, even if like Mr Buffett you dislike the theoretical basis for doing so, and Berkshire’s commentary and disclosure has always indicated that the contracts are of the plain vanilla variety.
This has prompted the good professor to come back with a new question: so what kind of puts did Warren Buffett sell, exactly? And in trying to answer it he has found that to Lehman Brothers at least, Berkshire appears to have sold some exotic derivatives indeed (which would raise another question, were they properly disclosed?). Read more