CNBC INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT & VIDEO, Part 3:  Warren Buffett Explains His $5B Goldman Investment


Warren Buffett was interviewed live by telephone on CNBC's Squawk Box this morning about his surprise investment of at least $5 billion in Goldman Sachs.

A summary is available in the post Warren Buffett to CNBC: Government Bailout Plan Made $5B Goldman Investment Possible.

This is part three of the complete transcript of that conversation.

(Click here for part one ... Click here for part two)

BECKY QUICK: Mr. Buffett, the front page of the Wall Street Journal and other media organizations around the globe have been picking this up, your move yesterday into Goldman Sachs, as a vote of confidence in the banking institutions across the globe. Is that fair?

BUFFETT: Well, I'm not buying a cross-section of banking institutions. But I certainly have confidence in Goldman. And you can say it's a vote of confidence in the Congress to do the right thing with something that's being debated before them right now.

CARL QUINTANILLA: You know, Warren, some might say, 'OK, we know Buffett is a pure capitalist. he's in this to make money and nothing else.' But also you're a philanthropist, you have interests in seeing the country do well over time. Some might say he's doing this, he's timed this to help get the package through. Is there anything -- is that even close to reality?

BUFFETT: No. I timed this because Goldman Sachs yesterday came up with something that made sense to me. I'm not brave enough, to try and influence the Congress. The other way around, they influence me. And I am betting on the Congress doing the right thing for the American public by passing this bill and not trying to doctor it up with a hundred things that, you know, emotionally they feel should be on the bill but as a practical matter will gum things up.

CARL: When do you think, Warren -- I don't know if you even have an answer to this question -- When is the absolute deadline by which you think this needs to happen? Is it this weekend? Can you be that specific? Or if this thing were to bleed into next week, or if they had to reconvene a special session, would that be disastrous?

BUFFETT: Well, I think anything that makes it look like it's in doubt is what causes the problem. So if they said on Friday we're absolutely having a vote on Monday, or something of the sort, I don't think that would be a problem. But if they went home on Friday and there was doubt about whether they were going to do something on Monday, I think you'd see some things you don't want to see in the markets and they would have some effects on the economy.

JOE: You were watching yesterday, and I don't know, maybe I don't know the ways of Washington. Maybe they say one thing and maybe they're really planning -- you know, they have to look good for their constituents. But I wasn't convinced they really understood the seriousness of the situation, Warren, and that was after they said, look, Greenspan says we need this, Volcker says we need this, Bernanke, Paulson. Now we have you. I don't know. Do you think they get it?


BUFFETT: Well, I think they will get it. I think enough of them will get it. You know, it's not like Pearl Harbor where you could look at what happened with your own eyes and decide you had to do something that day. But this is sort of an economic Pearl Harbor we're going through. And I think most of them will get it. And I do believe they will do what's right for the country. They may vent their spleen a little bit by getting mad about the people that brought us into that, and I don't blame them for that. I might do that privately, too. But in the end, you know, Republican, Democrat, I think they've got the interest of the country at heart and I think they will do the right thing. But I hope they do it soon. (Laughs.)

BECKY: Warren, how long were you talking to Goldman Sachs and how significantly did they have to change the terms of the deal to get you interested?

BUFFETT: Well, what they -- they had talked with me -- almost every financial institution has talked with me, that you read about, over the past few weeks. But, but, they were serious yesterday about doing something. They said, in effect said, 'What would you do? What would Berkshire do? And I laid out something. And they said, 'That makes sense to us.' And we had a deal. It doesn't take long.

JOE: You were kidding Becky when you said that you did this just 'cause you knew we were going to ask you when you were going to do something in financials again and you wanted to have an answer.

BUFFETT: Joe, Joe, I was not -- you know, I was trembling with the thought of you asking me again, 'When are you finally going to do something?' (Laughs.) So this was definitely an attempt to get you off my back.

JOE: It was a cheap way, a mere five billion, so you'd have something to show us this time.

BUFFETT: That's right. I mean, your withering questioning is just too tough for me. (Laughs.)

BECKY: You know, you mentioned earlier, in the grand scheme of things, it's going to matter who the next Treasury Secretary is going to be. Are there names of people you think would be sound in either administration.

BUFFETT: Becky, if I were running things, Republican or Democrat, I would ask Hank to stay on. I mean, you don't get talent like that very often in any administrative job. And the guy pays an enormous price to do it. He's probably sleeping three or four hours a night. He knows the market. He's got the interests of the country at heart. So I think if I were either Barack Obama or John McCain and found myself in the White House in January, I would go down there and say, 'Hank, do me a favor, stick around another year.'

CARL: And Warren, if you believe, as a lot of people do, that we are in for several years of this unwinding process, the government's going to play a huge role. If you were called to do something on the public side, would you do it?


BUFFETT: Well, I would certainly be glad to help in any way that I could. You know, I would be looked at as having conflicts-of-interest, I'm sure. But anytime I can be helpful on something -- For example, in terms of what you might do with institutions that participated in this program, I think the Treasury can, they can lay down some terms for these people. I don't think they should be in the legislation, but I think -- And if anybody wants my opinion on it, I'd be glad to help them out.

BECKY: Warren, if ...


BUFFETT: They can make money on this deal. I can tell you this. I would love to have 700-billion at Treasury rates to be able to buy fixed-income securities now that they're in distress. There's a lot of money to be made.

JOE: It's just that, you know, they want these details, Warren. They said -- Paulson says there's the hold-to-maturity price and there's the firesale price. We're going to go somewhere in between, get a much better price but still leave enough for the people that are buying it to make some money. That can be done in principle? There's a way to do that, do you think?

BUFFETT: I think what I would be looking for -- I heard that hold-to-maturity price. I'm not as excited about that. I basically like a market, or something very close to a market-related price. And there are ways to determine that and I don't think that Uncle Sam should be in the business of paying somebody a whole lot more than it's worth in the market today. And if the guy that bought it doesn't like it, he doesn't have to sell it, and it was his problem, he bought it in the first place. I think a market price will enable people to be leveraged. The problem they have now is that some of the institutions, they're loaded with this stuff, they're having trouble funding, and they're worried about being able to sell a ton of it. But take the Merrill Lynch deal. Merrill Lynch had to take back 75 percent of the sales price. Well, they didn't want to take back that 75 percent. I would let 'em sell it for the same price, but I'd pay them the whole thing in cash. So they'd be a lot better off if they could have sold the whole thing at that same price but gotten paid a hundred percent in cash instead of having to take back 75 percent. And I see the government fulfilling that kind of a function.

JOE: All the outrage we're seeing in these comments from viewers, and obviously the senators are hearing from constituents. If we take your word for it, that the government could even break-even, or only lose 50 billion, that 700 billion dollar number is out there in the public, and people think that we're spending that.

BUFFETT: Yeah, they think that, yeah.

JOE: It seems crucially important to get the point across that, in your view, we could, the government could actually end up making money and saving the taxpayer from much worse, a much worse outcome if we didn't do this.

BUFFETT: The government is getting 700 billion worth of assets, assuming they spend the 700 billion, they're getting 700 billion of assets at what I regard as attractive prices. And they've got the staying power to hold those things. If I could get 700 billion, if I could borrow 700 billion on the government's terms and buy these assets I'd be doing it myself. But unfortunately I'm tapped out. (Laughs.)

BECKY: And yet, Warren, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, I heard him making comments this morning, and he's someone I know you've spoken very highly of ..

BUFFETT: I admire him.

BECKY: You admire him. he says this morning we should not be giving a blank check to have something passed in the dead of night. How dire is this situation?

BUFFETT: Well, I'm sure we didn't want to go to war on December 7, 1941, maybe, in the dead of night, or whenever we did it, in the middle of the afternoon actually. But there are time when events force timetables on you, and force action, and you have to be -- You know, it's just like in my business. I might like to think over buying something for a month, I'm not that type anyway. But in the end, if somebody offers me something that makes sense, I better decide whether to act or not. And if it makes sense to me, I usually don't attach unnecessary conditions, you know. It would be nice to have the luxury of thinking about this for three months. But I will tell you, if you think about this for three months, you're going to have a situation where -- If you think about it for three weeks, you're going to be facing a situation that's far different, and far more difficult, than if you do something now.


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