This is the news conference held by Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska on Sunday, May 4, 2008, as live-blogged on CNBC.com's Warren Buffett Watch.
All times are Central.
2:22 pm: Buffett and Munger are sitting at a table in a hotel meeting room. No pictures, video or recording is permitted. The news conference is primarily for print journalists.
2:23 pm: Buffett says Korea stock market one of the most attractive in the world right now, but he's not looking at stocks in China due to price rises in that country. (Buffett made similar statements about Korea and China during last fall's trip to Asia.) He says, however, that it will remain on his radar. PetroChina is also on his radar screen. If the price becomes right, he could go back in after selling last year.
2:25 pm: Asked if the political situation in Italy affects his view of the market situation there, Buffett says, "No. We don't even let the political situation in the U.S. affect us."
2:27 pm: Asked how they react emotionally when economic times are tough, Charlie and Warren say as part of their investment philosophy, they stay calm when others get excited. It's all just business. Buffett says he specifically doesn't get excited about stock splits. Important to have a bedrock investment pilosophy. He got his from Ben Graham. It's important to have the right, "calm" temperament and the ability to think for yourself. "It doesn't make any difference what anyone else thinks about a stock."
2:30 pm: "Temperamental detachment from crowd opinion works. And when it works it becomes reinforcing in your behavior." Buffett says he and Charlie have a natural ability to remain calm.
2:32 pm: Munger says don't get seduced by crazy ideas of professors and pundits. Academics don't appreciate what he and Buffett do because their strategy is so simple. No complicated models. No formulas. "It's very simple what Berkshire does but it's kind of boring to many professors." "Not to me," jokes Buffett.
2:34 pm: Buffett says he's happy when stocks he's bought fall in the short term because then he can buy more at a "sale" price. Most people get unhappy when stocks fall. He doesn't.
2:35 pm: Buffett - "There's going to be more pain" in the banking sector involving write-downs, but "no one knows" exactly how much. Some of the investment banks still have losses to be taken but a lot of it has already been taken. Depends on what happens with the economy in the future. But, Buffett says, the fear of a major financial panic has been squelched by the Fed's move to prevent Bear Stearns from collapsing.
2:38 pm: Buffett says Wells Fargo (in which he has a stake) will have larger than usual losses, but that won't be the end of the world and he'll keep owning it over the next 5-10 years. "I would predict that Wells will be earning a lot more money ten years from now than it is now." It wouldn't matter to him if Wells Fargo was delisted for three years and he could just watch the business. He doesn't feel that way about every bank, of course.
2:40 pm: Munger says, "What your seeing now is justice." Banks that were stupid and overreached deserve to suffer. Buffett notes that justice is coming from the shareholders, but also affecting shareholders who didn't really know what was going on.
2:42 pm: Asked about free trade agreement between the U.S. and Korea by a Korean reporter, Buffett says he hasn't read details on any specific agreement. But in general he thinks the more trade the better. He notes, however, that while U.S. exports have grown, imports have grown even more. He thinks "the imbalance is a problem." He thinks a big imbalance will lead to economic and political problems down the road. But, in general, you should have as much trade as possible without favoring any specific countries, products or industries. Protectionism doesn't work toward the greater good over time. A Buffett trade policy would be "wide open."
2:46 pm: Buffett does note that trade is a tough issue politically, as people perceive a threat from foreign goods. Especially difficult during a political campaign. "When someone talks the way I'm talking about benefits of free trade" it doesn't mean much to someone in a small town that's lost a factory. He says there should be a safety net in a wealthy nation.
2:48 pm: Buffett says Berkshire uses a conservative, standard formula to value some derivatives holdings. While he thinks it's wrong, he doesn't want to use a formula that would give Berkshire "a better number." When you buy a financial institution, including Berkshire, you should be comfortable with the risk tolerance of the people in charge, and for a lot of banks, Buffett just doesn't know what they're doing. Will invest in a bank "only when I have a real fix on the people" running the bank. "We just can't figure out what they're doing most of the time," he says about most financial institutions.