Thousands of people fill arena to hear from Warren Buffett
- Author: Zachary Reyes May 07, 2017,
May 07, 2017, 12:50
Buffett said rising healthcare costs are crippling the competitiveness of US companies overseas. The bank said last fall that its employees opened up 2 million bank accounts without customer approval to meet unrealistic sales goals. The scandal has spurred millions of dollars in fines and legal costs and dented Wells Fargo's standing as one of the country's best run banks.
"When you talk about world competitiveness in business, it's the single biggest variable", Buffett said.
While Buffett is known for sticking with stocks like Coca-Cola Co. for decades, he's not wedded to old favorites when circumstances change.
"It turned out that was incentivizing the wrong kind of behavior", Buffett says. "That's why we work together so well", Buffett said to audience laughter.
The meeting also included discussions about Berkshire's succession plans, its controversial partnership with Brazilian firm 3G Capital, and whether it will start paying dividends or make a monster acquisition. Essentially, he feels that after having gone through years of consolidation, the few major airlines that are left are positioned to grow revenue over the coming years. Currently, Berkshire has more than $90 billion in cash on hand. In fact, Munger recently said, "It [the railroad industry] was a bad business for 80 years.but they finally got down to four big railroads, and it was a better business".
At Berkshire's shareholder meeting Saturday, Buffett was asked about the challenges of replacing Ajit Jain because Buffett has heaped praise on Jain for years.
He also addressed criticism that Berkshire discloses too little about its businesses, including aircraft parts maker Precision Castparts Corp, which it bought past year for $32.1 billion US. He had been looking to exit his position at $11.50 a share via a company buyback in 1964, a price that Berkshire's then-owner had agreed to verbally.
'So it is a huge tax cut for guys like me, ' he said.
Buffett, a Democrat who vocally supported Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful White House candidacy, added that the impact of lower corporate taxes would not translate into higher profits across all of Berkshire's many dozens of businesses.
In the past, Buffett has bristled at tax policy that he sees as favoring the wealthy - famously saying it's not fair that he pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary.
Mr. Buffett defended 3G for another year as he faced questions about how its penchant for cutting costs and laying off employees aligns with Berkshire's values.
But even if these measures fail, they let groups make a public statement about an issue they care about, and Berkshire's meeting offers a prominent stage because it draws more than 30,000 people who want to listen to Buffett and his Vice Chairman Charlie Munger field questions for most of the day today.
But the top two executives at Berkshire had long ruled out technology companies because they believe it's too hard to predict which ones will prevail.