OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Warren Buffett's investment company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said Wednesday it will offer about $1 billion in cash to buy Benjamin Moore & Co. of Montvale, N.J.

Under a merger agreement approved by Benjamin Moore's board and holders of about 18 percent of its common stock, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway will offer $37.82 cash per share to all holders of Benjamin Moore shares.

That was a 51 percent premium over Benjamin Moore's closing price of $25 a share on Wednesday in over-the-counter Bulletin Board trading.

The deal hinges on Berkshire getting at least two-thirds of the common stock and obtaining government approval.

Benjamin Moore, founded in 1883, would continue to be headquartered in Montvale. A leading manufacturer and retailer of premium paints, stains and industrial coatings, Benjamin Moore earned $78 million on 1999 revenue of $779.5 million. Its products are distributed throughout North America through authorized dealers.

Buffett is known for buying companies with well-known brand names and giving them independence under Berkshire's umbrella. Companies owned by Berkshire include Borsheim's jewelry and GEICO auto insurance. It has major holdings in Gillette Co. and Coca-Cola Co.

Richard Roob, chairman of Benjamin Moore, said the deal offers fair value to shareholders and "continuity of the company as a distinct entity."

"All those, past and present, who have played a part in building this company can feel proud that Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway want to be associated with the name Benjamin Moore," Roob said.