Except, well, Berkshire Hathaway.
Warren Buffett’s company has eschewed stock splits forEVER, and as of now it trades at an eye-popping $429,172.43 per share. (The next priciest issue is around $5k.)
My Nerds are with me already, but for those of you not in the tribe:
You’ve probably noticed some numbers show up as “limits” in computing. One common one is 255. Lots of data input fields, for example, limit you to 255 characters. You may or may not have ever wondered why, but I’m gonna tell you anyway: Remember that, at the end of the day, computers are powered by tiny tiny circuits, and at that level everything is either “on” or “off.” That’s binary. With a bit of handwaving, you can see how the limit of number storage for a given variable type would be tied directly to how much memory is set aside to store that variable type, and the limit can always be expressed as a power of 2 (because with binary, there are 2 states: on or off).
Two to the 8th power is 256. That number takes 8 bits to store.
Now, back to stocks.
NASDAQ, on which Berkshire trades, used a 32-bit integer data type to store stock prices. A regular 32-bit int has a range that’s centered on 0, but since stocks can’t have a negative price they used the unsigned version. 2 to the 32nd power is 4,294,967,296.
NASDAQ, sensibly, reserves the 4 rightmost digits for the fraction, so the largest stock price they can accommodate is $429,496.7294 per share — a value the Berkshire is fast approaching. NASDAQ is responding by rushing out a fix, but I think we all know how well rushed fixes go.
(If you’re thinking “wait, isn’t this kind of the same thing as the Y2K problem?”, well, you’re not entirely wrong. But given that Berkshire is SUPER weird in refusing to split, and that the next largest issue is two orders of magnitude away from the limit, I’m inclined to give the NASDAQ designers a pass here. Odds are, they’ve known this was coming for a while; my sense is that probably some of them wondered if Buffett would die first and be followed by someone less split-averse.)