Warren Buffett and Bill Gates sparked some speculation and discussion with their visit to Canada's oil sands region, but there's no hard evidence that they have actually invested, or will invest, in the energy source that some see as an alternative to U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern oil.
Last night (Tuesday), a newspaper in Calgary first revealed on its website that Buffett and Gates had made a "quiet" visit to the Horizon oil sands project in Alberta that's being developed by Canadian Natural Resources. That news was quickly picked up by CNBC.com, along with some big newspapers and wire services.
(See the WBW post Warren Buffett and Bill Gates Go North to See "Neat" Alberta Oil Sands Firsthand.)
Today (Wednesday), shares of Canadian Natural rallied by just over seven percent to close at $82.91 in New York. (A big one-day gain that still leaves the stock well below its June high of over $107.) Current price:
The bull case: if two of the richest men in the world are interested enough to trek to northeastern Alberta, there just might be some money to be made by investing in what they went to see.
While the pair may have partially gone with "investment in mind", as a source told the Calgary Herald, they appear to have been basically satisfying their curiosity, along with other high-profile visitors to the oil sands in recent months. The local mayor is quoted in the Herald as saying, "It's astounding to me, frankly, the caliber of these individuals (who) just seem to arrive quietly in our community."
Buffett tells Liz Claman of Fox Business Network that he made the trip to "just look around and learn a little." (But keep in mind, the normally cagey Buffett wouldn't just come out and say he's planning to make a specific investment even if he was.) Becky Quick will be pressing Buffett for his thoughts on the oil sands business when he appears live on Squawk Box this coming Friday morning.
Edward Jones energy analyst Lanny Pendill told the Canadian Press, "The fact that people were up there kicking the tires means nothing from a financial standpoint and therefore really shouldn’t really play into what the price of these stocks is doing today."
Even so, investors have learned from experience that it can pay off to pay attention to what Buffett is doing and where he's going. CNBC Contributor John Kilduff of ML Global can see why Buffett may have made the trip. He appeared today on CNBC's Street Signs with Tyson Slocum of the Public Citizen Energy Program, who argues that environmental costs will prevent oil sands from going mainstream. Here's the clip.
Current Berkshire stock prices:
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