Buffett Watch

Warren Buffett's European Media Blitz Hits Madrid

Warren Buffett's European media blitz continues today with a news conference in Madrid.  It's the third time he's met with reporters in as many days.  After visiting Milan tomorrow, he heads back to the United States.

With his customary bottle of Coca-Cola in front of him and a scratchy voice, Buffett opened by repeating a theme from the Swiss news conference, saying that there would be no deals announced today or tomorrow, or anytime soon, aresulting directly from his trip.

Instead, his European tour is designed to raise awareness about Berkshire Hathaway as a potential buyer of large family-owned businesses and se the stage for deals in the future.

Buffett Report

When asked by CNBC Europe's Anna Martin why he hadn't come to Europe earlier, Buffett said he's correcting a mistake and he should have been looking at European companies 10 years ago. (Anna's post-news conference report appears to the left.) Buffett said he will probably return to Europe in the future, but four countries was about as many as he could handle on one trip. He said he has no preference for making an acquisition in any one of the countries he's visiting this time over any other large country, including the United States. When the deal is right, he'll do it, wherever it may be. Still, he expects that Europe will probably present more opportunities than other areas.

Asked about today's big stock decline for Moody's , in which Berkshire Hathaway holds a large stake, Buffett said he doesn't think the events of any one day will change the franchise value for any of the credit rating agencies, and he expects Moody's and Standard and Poor's to be around for a long time.  Moody's price is down today on revelations a computer problem resulted in erroneous ratings on complicated European debt.

Buffett repeated his belief that while there will be continuing ripples in the U.S. economy from the subprime credit crisis, the chances of a major financial panic were greatly reduced by the Federal Reserve's move to prevent Bear Stearns from collapsing.  "The big waves have hit."  he repeated his belief that recession in the U.S. will be "longer and deeper" than many people expect.

Asked to compare the problem of recession against terrorism, he noted that the recession will pass while terrorism will remain for some time.  Still, it would be difficult to rank one over the other as more troublesome since they affect different people in different ways.

Buffett said if Berkshire does buy into a European company, he would want majority control, rather than a smaller minority stake.  He's looking for large companies with earnings of at least 75 million dollars a year, "the bigger the better."

He repeated his intention to avoid Internet and technology companies, because he's not "good at predicting change" and prefers to stay with businesses in which there isn't much change, such as Coca-Cola.

Asked whether he still believes derivatives to be 'financial weapons of mass destruction,' Buffett said in some cases they've already proven to be very destructive, and they hold the potential for more damage in the future.

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