Warren Buffett's reputation as a technophobe may be cracking.
Today he told CNBC he'll "probably" get an Amazon Kindle as he "edges" into 21st century technology.
In an on-camera chat with our Julia Boorstin at Herb Allen's annual gathering of the rich and famous in Sun Valley, Idaho, Buffett said he's impressed by the wireless electronic book reader after hearing other attendees give it "wildly enthusiastic" reviews.
Buffett isn't as much of a luddite as you might think.
He proudly showed Julia his cell phone, although he claimed it's an "1893 model" given to him personally by Alexander Graham Bell.
And while he's not a PC whiz at the office, he does go online regularly to play contract bridge with his good friend Bill Gates and other enthusiasts.
I can see why Buffett would be interested in the Kindle, which uses a wireless connection to electronically display books, newspapers and magazines from around the world.
Buffett does a lot of reading, and he reads quickly, generally going through six newspapers a day to start. (Becky Quick detailed his daily reading list in one of her "postcards from the road" during Buffett's trip to Asia last fall and went into greater detail on how he reads "everything" during a Reporter's Notebook conversation with CNBC Managing Editor Tyler Mathisen.)
One potential downside for Buffett is that he really likes corporate annual reports, and the Kindle website doesn't include them in its list of content offerings. Guess you can't have everything. Perhaps a future enhancement, Amazon?
Here's the video clip of Julia's complete conversation with Buffett, which includes his thoughts (non-thoughts, really) on Berkshire's stock price and a cautious prediction of what we'll be reporting on Election Night this year.
Julia Boorstin: I should start off with a question about this conference. I heard this morning that the Kindle is a big topic, talking about the publishing industry changing, and (Amazon CEO) Jeff Bezos made a presentation. I heard you don't even have a cell phone. What do you think of the Kindle?
(Buffett reaches into his pocket and takes out a cell phone.)
Julia: You do!
Buffett: It's an 1893 model, I think. Alexander Graham Bell gave this to me personally. (Laughs.)
Julia: Does this mean you're going to be getting a Kindle?
Buffett: I probably will, after hearing about it today. And I ran into a number of people that have Kindles and who are just in love with them. In fact, a woman that is the wife of another attendee here, came in on the plane with us, and she was using a Kindle and was wildly enthusiastic about it.
Julia: So this is going to be your new technology?
Buffett: Well, who knows? I mean, I kind of edge into technology. I'm just getting into the 20th century. I'll be working on the 21st century pretty soon, yeah. (Laughs.)
Julia: What is the mood at this conference this year?
Buffett: Well, the mood .. I would say that people just love being here. That's what happens. I was at a barbeque last night and everybody had such a good time. So I have not yet heard a discouraging word, as we say in Wyoming. (Laughs.) But, I'm sure some of the people have got their own problems in their own businesses, but nobody's talked about it yet.
Julia: What's your sense in terms of the economy? You have some thoughts on the economy.
Buffett: Well, I can tell you that from a certain amount of real-time information that I get from our businesses and elsewhere, things have, the decline has accelerated in the last, I would say, six weeks. So things are getting worse at a more rapid rate than they were two or three months ago.
Julia: And how are the numbers that you're seeing compared to the sense in the markets right now? Do you think it's worse than people think?
Buffett: That's hard to tell because I don't know what... And incidentally, we've made the most money by buying when things are terrible. I mean, if you go back to 1974 and 5, when we were buying heavily, things were getting worse week by week. So there's not necessarily any correlation between what's going on in the economy and what is going on, or should go on in the market. The cheaper you buy things, the better off you're going to be, if you hold them for a long time.
Julia: You always do very well in weak markets. What kind of deals are you looking for now?
Buffett: Good ones. (Laughs.) How's that for a specific answer? (Laughs.)
Julia: Your stock is off about 25 percent from the high.
Buffett: From the high, yeah.
Julia: Do you think about that? Are you worried about that?
Buffett: I never look at it. I could not tell you what it's selling for. It doesn't make any difference. I can't tell you what its selling for on April 9, 1993. It doesn't make any difference. I'm going to hold it forever. I'll be giving it away. But, it just doesn't make any difference. The important thing is whether we're building value at Berkshire.
Julia: In this type of economic situation are there certain sectors that you think provide more opportunity for you than others?
Buffett: Well, the cheapest sectors provide the most opportunity. And I just keep looking at everything.
BUFFETT'S ELECTION NIGHT PREDICTION
Julia: Last week, I saw the announcement that Berkshire made a deal, basically to insure the state of Florida should the hurricane damage be too high.
Buffett: We've agreed to buy four billion (dollars) of bonds if there's a heavy level of insured losses and the state of Florida is having trouble selling bonds at that time. So we are a backstop, in effect.
Julia: So why make this type of deal? Why does it make sense?
Buffett: Well, we just analyze every deal as we go along and we think that, on balance, we're getting paid an appropriate amount for taking on that risk.
Julia: And do you see yourself, or do you see Berkshire making similar deals with other states? Say, Lousiana?
Buffett: Well, probably Florida is the one because they have this big cat fund that they administer themselves and so they've got huge potential liabilities. And I don't think any other state is in quite the same position as Florida is in that respect.
Julia: Now, back to Sun Valley. A lot of business names have been bandied about as potential vice presidential candidates. People are saying the vice president should have a real business presence. What are you thinking about these names and the idea of having a businessman as a VP?
Buffett: Well, they're floating the name Joe Kernen a lot out here. (Laughs.) But I think he's still a long shot. I've got some opinions on vice presidential candidates. I think there's four or five of them that I would be quite enthusiastic about, but I don't think I'll name them now. (Laughs.)
Julia: One or two?
Buffett: (Laughs.) Well. No, I think I better not. I've given that information privately to some people.
Julia: Do you think they're going to take your advice?
Buffett: No. (Laughs.)
Julia: You helped to hold a fund-raiser for Barack Obama last week. How did it go?
Buffett: It went very well. I think we raised about two and three-quarter million dollars and we had to turn away a lot of people because we promised that it would be a certain size. It was a good crowd.
Julia: And are you happy with the state of the Democratic party today?
Buffett: Well, I'm much more happy with it than I am with any alternative. No, I think we've got a great candidate and I think he's going to win in November. He may win by a very large margin. We'll see.
Julia: Interesting. And I know you have not been involvedwith InBev/Anheuser-Busch talks.
Julia: Up until now, but then there's been more news this week about a lawsuit. Are you still not involved at this point?
Buffett: I'm making no news on that subject. (Laughs.)
Julia: Now I saw that Barack Obama said that he thought foreign ownership of Anheuser-Busch would be a 'shame.' What do you think about his thoughts on that?
Buffett: I hadn't read that, myself. But I have no thoughts on other people's thoughts, let alone my own. (Laughs.)
Julia: So nothing on beer. So ...
Buffett: But drink Coca-Cola, incidentally. (Berkshire owns a large stake in the soft drink maker.)
Julia: So looking forward to the rest of the week. Is there anything else we should be keeping an eye out for? Do you think any deals will come out of this conference?
Buffett: I would bet some will, but that doesn't necessarily mean it would be announced after this conference. But you can't get this many people, you know, with that much testosterone flowing, and all that sort of thing, without having some kind of activity. Sure. It's a great place to see people. The important part about this is that everybody, including their families, and I bring part of my family almost every time. We've brought probably as many as nine or ten Buffetts up here at a single time. Everybody has a terrific time. Herb Allen is the perfect host.
Julia: And he makes great deals, it sounds like.
Buffett: Well, that can be, too. But he would do this if he knew not a dime of business would ever come to him. He's that kind of guy. He likes having his friends have a good time.
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