Famed billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. picked up a pricey bauble this Valentine's week, $250 million of Tiffany & Co. debt.
Tiffany & Co. is still the world's second-largest retailer of luxury jewelry but like many retailers, especially those in the jewelry business, it took a deep hit over the past holiday season. With its stock share price falling and lower sales numbers, the Buffett boost provides much-needed insulation in an unsure world.
Buffett has been buying up debt everywhere lately on companies as varied as Harley-Davidson and Sealed Air Corp., the makers of Bubble Wrap. Bonds on this debt pay between 10 and 15 percent. The Tiffany bonds are at 10 percent and half of the bonds will mature in 2017, the rest two years later. Tiffany will use the money to repay debt and regroup in a time that has seen other jewelry retailers including Whitehall and, just last week, Fortunoff
, fall into bankruptcy. In the last year or so much of Tiffany's strategy has involved opening smaller stores and creating more entry-level sterling silver pieces. Last March before the economic crisis really got into full spin, I questioned whether these stores
and this merchandise represented a dilution of the TIffany brand. Given the prevailing winds of change, Tiffany could decide to reverse course, open fewer stores this year and strengthen its luxury reputation or it could continue on the current track and hope that consumers with less money to spend will still want a little piece of Tiffany.