CNBC Transcript Part 8: Warren Buffett On Buybacks and His Greatest Worry
Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett appeared live on CNBC's Squawk Box this morning, February 27, 2012, for his annual "Ask Warren" three-hour marathon.
This is part eight of a transcript of his comments.
BECKY: We are back with Warren Buffett this morning. We've got a last few minutes of questions before we are finished up here. And, Warren, Jim Cramer was just making some comments about your view on stock buybacks, especially regarding IBM. You now own about 5 1/2 percent of the stock of the shares outstanding for that company and in your annual letter you laid out your cause for why you would be happy to see them buying back stock and you're not necessarily looking for that stock to go up over the last few years. That's a little controversial. You want to lay it out?
BUFFETT: Well, I don't know whether it's going to go up or not.
BUFFETT: I'm just saying that if they're going to buy back stock, they're going to buy back a lot of stock, they've announced they're going to do that. If they buy it cheaper and I'm a continuing shareholder, I'm better off. I mean, if three people own a McDonald's stand and you can buy out a — one of the three for a fifth of the total value of it, the other two are better off at the end. And any time you — any time you buy your partner out at a discount, you benefit. Now there's no moral problem attached to that in the stock market because markets set prices, you wouldn't want to do that in a private partnership.
BUFFETT: But I'll love it if IBM buys a ton of stock, and the cheaper they buy it, the better I'll do over time.
BECKY: OK. Let's talk about gas prices once again, because we did have a lot of people who wrote in who said that they are feeling the pinch of gas prices already.
BECKY: I guess gas price is up around $3.80, somewhere in that realm. We could very likely see it push back above $4. There are people who, again, who are writing in who say they feel it and it could end up cutting into what they spend in other places. Could it eat into the economy?
BUFFETT: Well, it is a minus, there's no question about it.
BUFFETT: I mean, if you spend more on gas, you've got less to spend on other things. We have — you know, we had $147 a barrel oil, too, so I mean, we've lived through it in the past. And $30 oil was a shock in the 1970s and it had an effect on the economy. So any time an important part of the American expenditures goes up in price, whether it's food or whether it's gas, you know, it has an effect on everything else, no question about it.
BECKY: I know that you look at a lot of different factors and that overall you are very optimistic about the future not only of this country but also of the stock market. But if you have a list of worries, what's at the top of that list?
BUFFETT: Well, the biggest worry is nuclear, chemical and biological attack of some sort, whether by a government or by a rogue group, and that will happen someday in our future and it'll be anything from a large tragedy to an unbelievable tragedy.
BECKY: Right now it's not — it's not on the forefront of Americans' minds, although a lot of the things that are happening in the Middle East right now are creeping back up there.
BUFFETT: Yeah. Well, it'll happen sometime when it isn't on their — on our minds, just like the attack in — on 9/11. I mean, there are people that wish us ill and they — and they wish us a lot of ill if they can pull it off. So nuclear, chemical and biological knowledge has spread, and there are plenty of people that would like — wish us ill, so that is the biggest worry we have. But in terms of the economy and all of that, the luckiest person born in the history of the world is the baby being born today in the United States. I mean, in terms of the outlook for their lives, they are going to live better than John D. Rockefeller lived or better than I live and so on. I mean, it — our country's future is just — it's fantastic.
BECKY: Warren, if you had to compare the stock market and how you feel about it right now vs. where you did back in October of 2008 when you told people to buy stocks, you were, how would you briefly sum that up?
BUFFETT: Well, they were cheaper at that time. It's become clear now that the dominos aren't going to fall, so people are less worried now. But the time to buy stocks is when people are most worried, and October of 2008 was a better time than now. This is a better time than 10 years from now will be.
BECKY: OK. Warren, we want to thank you very much for joining us here this morning and being so generous with your time.
BUFFETT: Thanks for coming.
BECKY: We appreciate it.
And, guys, we'll send it back to you in the studio.
JOE: So Warren, you won't come to the correspondents' dinner with me, that's all right. All right, that's fine.
BUFFETT: I'm sending — I'm sending another brick, Joe.
JOE: I'm going to...
BUFFETT: It's in the mail.
JOE: ...I'm going to — you know, I'm going to ask Bill Murray, then. If you're not coming, I'm going to ask Bill — I'm going to ask Bill Murray. But I asked you first, don't say that I didn't.
BUFFETT: Oh, I got it.
ANDREW: Warren, how would you — if I took Ed Asner, would that be OK, or is that sort of off-limits? You know.
JOE: That's — you...
BUFFETT: I think Ed Asner got overlooked in the — in the Oscars. I'm amazed.
JOE: He's a little more conservative.
BUFFETT: Those people have no judgment of talent.
JOE: He's a little more conservative than you are.
ANDREW: Wait, you're going to say he's a little more conservative...
JOE: No, than you are, Andrew, yeah.
ANDREW: I'm not so sure about that.
JOE: You — but you guys can have a meeting of the minds.
ANDREW: OK, we got to run. Warren, thank you so much for a wonderful three hours, a lot of news there.
JOE: A lot of time.
ANDREW: Make sure you join us tomorrow.
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