Warren Buffett US Air Investment (NYSE: LCC). Buffett regretted this US Air investment later; it was one of his few forays into the airline industry. In 1989, Buffett purchased $358 million of US Air preferred with 9.25% dividend, mandatory redemption in 10 years, and right to convert into common at $60 a share.
Structuring as a preferred afforded Buffett slightly more protection than if he were to buy straight equity in the event of bankruptcy. However, he would still be behind debtholders and risks a complete writedown to zero if the company runs into significant trouble and is not even able to repay all debtholders. The intrinsic problem with many airlines is that the airline industry as a whole has generated negative returns for shareholders – the industry lacks genuine competitive advantages and is often reduced to brutal price competition. There is no true customer stickiness – customers would willingly pick another airline if its airfare was cheaper. This lack of customer loyalty is accentuated by comparison sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak and Travelocity.
Warren Buffett Investment in US Air – the Aftermath
Although Buffett eventually made money on this investment, he almost lost all of it as US Air neared bankruptcy in the interim.
Buffett regretted this investment and would not have invested in retrospect. Once, when asked if he would do anything different if he could live his life all over again, Buffett noted, “I would really do almost exactly what I have done except I wouldn’t have bought US Air”.
Buffett bought US Air because it was an attractive security. However, the airline industry as a whole was and continues to be far from attractive. Buffett shuns the airline industry in general, as it is a high fixed cost and highly competitive industry that has on the whole made negative returns for its investors.
Buffett once joked to a group of business school students, “I now have an 800 number I call every time I think about buying a stock in an airline. I say, ‘I’m Warren and I am an air-aholic.’”