In an exclusive interview with CNBC, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett said the stock market isn’t “ridiculously overpriced” and that Berkshire is having a hard time finding a "huge" acquisition with the $46 billion in cash it has on hand.
Buffett also told CNBC's Liz Claman in a live interview in Omaha, Neb., that:
--There are three "terrific" candidates to succeed him as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, though he didn't name them. He also said he may try out several candidates for chief investment officer to see how they do.
--Berkshire Hathaway won’t bid for Dow Jones, which has recieved a $60 a share offer from News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch. “I couldn’t buy it for Berkshire because I’d have to buy it for an uneconomic price,” Buffett said. “The only way I could do anything is if I did it individually, which is very, very unlikely."
--There’s a “lot of momentum” behind private equity and the rush to complete deals will continue, creating stiff competition for Berkshire Hathaway. He said fund managers want to invest money on hand quickly and start another fund to collect their fees.
The interview came after Berkshire Hawthaway held its annual meeting over the weekend, which attracts thousands of shareholders. Also, Berkshire reported a 12% jump in first-quarter profit to $2.6 billion, helped by strong performance in insurance, which usually accounts for more than half of earnings. Insurance operations have benefited from a lack of major storms after 2005.
Buffett told Claman that he would like to make a huge acquisition in the $40 billion to $60 billion range, but it's "hard to find big deals. We're competing against private equity and other corporations." He said he would be reluctant to sell Berkshire Hathaway shares to close a major deal, and would sell stock held by the investment company first.
(Editor's Note: Buffett also discussed his decision to invest in railroads, saying he had changed his thinking on the sector, having misjudged it in the past. At the time, however, Buffett declined to identify recent investments in the area. He subsequently disclosed that information in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The Berkshire chairman also said he had “no idea” how the stock market would move in the immediate future.
“I don’t look at the stock market at all as ridiculously overpriced,” Buffett said. “If you told me I had to buy a 20-year bond or make a 20-year investment in the stock market, I’d rather buy the stock market. It’s not cheap, but it’s not ridiculous.”
He said many investors around the world would “salivate” at a chance to buy The Wall Street Journal because Dow Jones “has an appeal beyond economics.”
Buffett added that the Bancroft family can “always get $60 a share” for its controlling stake in Dow Jones. “That is not a high price for Dow Jones and Co. if you add the psychic income you get plus cash income. It’s not like they’re passing up the offer of a lifetime if they turn (Rupert Murdoch's offer) down.”
Buffett said he has diversified his holdings to include companies that earn money in currencies other than the dollar. He said the federal government’s “current account deficits” will weaken the dollar and create political problems in the future if not corrected.
Buffett said Berkshire Hathaway is looking for his successor and several chief investment officers to replace him.
“There will be a number of candidates, and we could easily hire more than one,” Buffett said. “I’ll see how they play out over time – give them a block of money to run for a few years and look at who might scale up the best. That’s the real problem. Many (people) can run $1 billion or $2 billion well, but they have to be able to run $100 billion well. It could end up that we end up with two or three for the (chief investment officer) job.”