Warren Buffett: 'I'm Ready for Another Elephant'
Warren Buffett told CNBC that even after teaming up with 3G Capital Management to acquire H.J. Heinz, he's still looking for another big acquisition and has the cash to pay for one.
That's a reference to his letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in 2011, in which he wrote about the need for major acquisitions to maintain growth in the company's non-insurance businesses. "We're prepared. Our elephant gun has been reloaded, and my trigger finger is itchy."
Buffett said Berkshire is contributing "something between" $12 and $13 billion of the deal, so there's plenty of cash available for another big acquisition if Buffett finds one.
(Read More: Is Buffett Still a Bargain Hunter?)
Buffett said that at the end of 2012, Berkshire had $47 billion of cash. He likes to always have around $20 billion available, so the "excess cash" was roughly $27 billion. That would leave something between $14 and $15 billion for another purchase.
He added, "Of course, the cash builds from month to month, so the gun is always getting reloaded." Berkshire uses the cash "float" generated by premiums for its insurance businesses to make investments and acquisitions.
Buffett said that while Berkshire is putting up half the equity for the deal, 3G will be primarily responsible for running Heinz. "It's their baby from an operational standpoint."
That's fine with him. "It's a great partnership for us. And any partnership where I don't have to do the work is my kind of partnership."
Buffett said he has full confidence in 3G's ability to run Heinz. "I don't think I've ever seen a better developed management group than the one Jorge Paulo Lemann has developed over the years in Brazil. He's an incredible guy."
Asked why he is willing to pay a 20 percent premium for Heinz, Buffett replied, "It's our kind of company. It's got a group of fantastic brands led by ketchup. Referring to his fondness for cheeseburgers, Buffett joked that he had sampled Heinz ketchup "many, many times."
As for the U.S. economy, Buffett said conditions have been "remarkably similar since the late summer of 2009." Berkshire's economy-dependent businesses have "steadily gotten better but not at a fast clip, and that continues to this day."