Investing Warren Buffett Watch

  Monday, 22 Jan 2018 | 12:23 PM ET

In 2017, there was a new billionaire every 2 days

Around the world, there was a new billionaire every two days in 2017.

That's according to a report published Monday by the global charity Oxfam. The goal of the report, which is called "Reward Work, Not Wealth," is to call attention to wealth inequality.

There are 2,043 dollar billionaires in the world, the report finds.

The growth in wealth of the world's billionaires is eye-popping: Wealth of billionaires increased by $762 billion in 2017 — a sum which is enough to end extreme poverty around the world seven times over, the report says.

And 82 percent of the total wealth created wealth went to the top 1 percent while the bottom 50 percent of individuals saw no increase in their wealth at all.

Oxfam used data from Forbes and the Credit Suisse Global Wealth datebook for its calculations. Wealth is calculated as an individual's assets minus debts.

A mere 42 of the world's wealthiest people have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 3.7 billion people, according to new data from Credit Suisse, which the report highlights.

And in the United States, the three richest people — Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett — have more wealth than half the population of the US combined. That's according to a November report from from the progressive Washington, D.C.-based think tank Institute for Policy Studies, which the Oxfam study also points to.

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  Friday, 19 Jan 2018 | 1:12 AM ET

Bitcoin could be here for 100 years but it's more likely to 'totally collapse,' Nobel laureate says

Bitcoin will likely "totally collapse," Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller has told CNBC, adding that it reminds him of "tulip mania" centuries ago in the Netherlands.

The Yale University professor said there are "bubbles everywhere," not just in bitcoin, and added that he "doesn't know what to make of bitcoin ultimately."

"It has no value at all unless there is some common consensus that it has value. Other things like gold would at least have some value if people didn't see it as an investment," Shiller told CNBC in an interview ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he will be speaking next week.

"It reminds me of the Tulip mania in Holland in the 1640s, and so the question is did that collapse? We still pay for tulips even now and sometimes they get expensive. (Bitcoin) might totally collapse and be forgotten and I think that's a good likely outcome but it could linger on for a good long time, it could be here in 100 years."

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  Thursday, 18 Jan 2018 | 3:30 PM ET

AmEx dips after company says it will temporarily suspend buybacks due to tax law

American Express announced it will be temporarily suspending its buyback program after the recent tax overhaul.

In the company's earnings release Thursday, CEO Ken Chenault said AmEx will suspend its buyback program for the first half of the year. The CEO said the company made this decision to rebuild its capital because of the upfront charge triggered by the new tax law.

Including the impact from the recent tax legislation, American Express reported a net loss of $1.2 billion or $1.41 per share in the fourth quarter. In the year-ago quarter, the company reported a net income of $825 million or 88 cents per share.

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  Thursday, 18 Jan 2018 | 10:00 AM ET

Blockchain cryptocurrency wallet launches bitcoin buy and sell in the US to challenge Coinbase

Posted ByArjun Kharpal
Peter Smith, chief executive officer of Blockchain Ltd.
Paulo Duarte | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Peter Smith, chief executive officer of Blockchain Ltd.

Blockchain, one of the biggest cryptocurrency wallets in the world, launched a service to buy and sell digital coins in the U.S. on Thursday, in a challenge to Coinbase.

The U.K.-headquartered company already allows its British customers to buy and sell bitcoin via its service, and is now launching the function in one of the biggest cryptocurrency markets in the world.

From Thursday, Blockchain's U.S. users will be able to sell their bitcoin, with the buying function coming at a later date.

Many users in the U.S. have complained about services that offer cryptocurrency trading, citing issues around being able to withdraw money or get liquidity. Given that backdrop, Peter Smith, CEO of Blockchain, said it's better to start with just offering a sell service as it helps to control the launch in the U.S. and make sure people have a good experience.

"If we are prioritizing short-term gains, we would prioritize buy — that is what most people have done. But it's really time to make sure we nail that experience," Smith told CNBC in an interview ahead of the launch announcement.

The launch followed a huge sell-off in major cryptocurrencies that began Tuesday. The market appeared to stabilize on Thursday, however.

Blockchain claims to have 22 million users and Smith said that it has 1 million daily users. Thirty percent to 40 percent of those are in the U.S., Smith added. In comparison, Coinbase, which has seen a surge in sign-ups to its platform in recent months, has over 10 million users, according to its website. Coinbase allows people to buy and sell bitcoin, ethereum and bitcoin cash.

Smith said that "in a few weeks" Blockchain will add other cryptocurrencies to its platform to buy and sell.

Cryptocurrencies have divided opinion among business leaders and experts. J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon famously called bitcoin a "fraud", while noted investor Warren Buffett told CNBC that cryptocurrencies will "come to a bad ending."

But others have said bitcoin will continue to climb this year. Julian Hosp, co-founder of TenX, a firm that wants to make it easier for people to spend virtual currencies, told CNBC in December that bitcoin could hit $60,000 in 2018, but could crash first. And Dave Chapman, managing director of cryptocurrency trading firm Octagon Strategy, said that bitcoin could hit $100,000 in 2018.

Blockchain's Smith did not give a price call on bitcoin, but said that it's likely the cryptocurrency's dominance, which is already on the decline, could continue to fall.

"What could happen this year is that I think we will see the dominance of bitcoin as a percentage of the market capitalization go down. That could be because other digital coins get strong, or that there are a lot more that are interesting," he said.

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  Wednesday, 17 Jan 2018 | 11:27 AM ET

Dollar will eventually run like bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, venture capitalist Joyce Kim predicts

Bitcoin and other digital currencies won't entirely replace traditional currencies like dollars, venture capitalist Joyce Kim told CNBC on Wednesday.

The SparkChain Capital co-founder said on "Squawk Box" that she does not believe "the tokens will become the money of the future for every single person for every transaction."

Kim, whose firm invests in blockchain and cryptocurrency innovations, said she believes "it's super important for people in various economies to be able to transact in local currencies."

In fact, she predicted the dollar "will eventually run like current cryptocurrencies" because the underlying blockchain technology is "faster, more efficient, cheaper."

"The rails in which upon our currencies run, that is really out of date. That can be upgraded," she added.

Kim, also co-founder of digital currency payments platform Stellar, spoke after the price of bitcoin after a number of other major digital assets fell sharply this week on concern about a crackdown on virtual currencies in South Korea.

Bitcoin, the world's largest cryptocurrency, traded below $10,000 at one stage Wednesday, nearly 50 percent below last month's all-time high. Ethereum and ripple — the second- and third-biggest digital coins, respectively — also moved sharply lower. Though it's worth noting that all three of those have absolutely skyrocketed over the past 12 months.

Despite the confidence of cryptobelievers, there are also big-name naysayers.

For one, J.P. Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon has said virtual currencies would never be a major competitor to the dollar. But he's indicated the technology behind them could be used for more efficient transactions. Dimon recently said he regrets calling bitcoin a "fraud" back in September.

Additionally, billionaire investor Warren Buffett told CNBC earlier this month that he believes the recent craze over bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies won't end well. "If I could buy a five-year put on every one of the cryptocurrencies, I'd be glad to do it but I would never short a dime's worth," Buffett said, who was referring to a "put option" versus selling short or betting an asset price will go down.

However, SparkChain's Kim said she doesn't think bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will disappear.

"They all have their individual use cases, they all have a specific [use]," she said. For example, most people currently use bitcoin "as a savings system" and "an investment tool."

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  Friday, 12 Jan 2018 | 3:26 PM ET

Why Cameron Winklevoss drives an 'old SUV' even though the twins are bitcoin billionaires

Posted ByAli Montag

Investors Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss may be among the first bitcoin billionaires, but they don't act much like it.

When the twins were awarded $65 million in cash and Facebook stock after a lengthy legal dispute with Mark Zuckerberg, they used their windfall to take a risk: They backed bitcoin, and the decision paid off.

In April 2013, the Winklevoss twins together held $11 million in bitcoin priced at $120 a coin. That holding grew to be worth more than $1 billion in December 2017 as the price of one coin surpassed $11,700.

That month, The New York Times reported the twins' bitcoin holdings were worth about $1.3 billion and that they held an additional $350 million in other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum. (December saw wild swings in the price of bitcoin, at one point topping $19,000 trading on the Coinbase exchange. Friday, Bitcoin was trading near $13,500, according to Coinbase.)

While other early cryptocurrency investors are splurging on things like Lamborghinis, though, the Winklevoss brothers are managing their wealth differently.

"While they both have apartments in downtown Manhattan, they say they live relatively spartan lives with few luxuries," The Times' Nathaniel Popper reports. "Cameron drives an old S.U.V.; Tyler doesn't have a car at all."

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  Friday, 12 Jan 2018 | 6:29 AM ET

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink: Retirement savers even as old as 50 should mostly be in stocks

BlackRock chief Larry Fink told CNBC on Friday that most people saving for retirement should have the bulk of their portfolios in stocks rather than bonds.

Investors even as old as 50 should mostly be in the stock market, he said. That advice runs counter to conventional asset allocation wisdom that long-term investors should have a portion of their portfolios in bonds.

Even with stocks at around record highs, people who buy into the market now will do better in equities than bonds over time, Fink said. BlackRock is still "quiet bullish" on equities at these levels, he added.

Those comments about stocks versus bonds echo what billionaire investor Warren Buffett told CNBC earlier this week.

The Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO reiterated what he's said for years: Don't buy bonds, stock are the way to go.

Despite that advice, investors did indeed pour into bonds in the latest quarter, Fink said.

He believes that's happening because people are not good at market timing and therefore seek the safety of bonds.

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  Thursday, 11 Jan 2018 | 2:52 PM ET

Meet the billionaire businessman obsessed with impeaching Trump

President Trump's approval rating has been hovering around 40 percent for months. There are a whole lot of people who would be very happy to see the controversial leader removed from the White House, but few are making any real progress in unseating Trump.

Tom Steyer is a notable exception.

The Californian has recently pledged $30 million to flip the House of Representatives from Republican to Democrat in the 2018 Congressional midterm elections. He's also delivering copies of Michael Wolff's behind-the-scenes look at the Trump White House, "Fire and Fury," to every member of Congress.

But who is Steyer? And how did he make all his money?

Steyer, 60, is currently worth $1.6 billion, according to Forbes. He graduated from Yale with his a bachelor's degree in 1979 and Stanford School of Business in 1983, according to his LinkedIn page. He launched the asset management firm, Farallon Capital Management, in 1986 and grew the company for the following 26 years.

Farallon Capital Management manages equities for college endowments, charitable foundations, pension plans and wealthy individuals. According to the global company's website, it currently has 180 employees.

In 2010, Steyer signed The Giving Pledge, an initiative co-founded by billionaire buddies Warren Buffett and Bill Gates whereby billionaires publicly pledge to give away more than half of their wealth.

"Almost by accident — we've focused on good investing not making money — we currently have more assets than we could reasonably spend in our lifetime. Our original impetus for saving money revolved around wanting our kids to enjoy the same educational opportunities that we had, so that they could succeed on their own terms, assuming that they worked hard," Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, wrote when they took the pledge.

"We want to leave our kids a different kind of inheritance, an example of at least trying to lead a worthy life," the couple wrote.

In 2012, Steyer left Farallon, and the following year launched NextGen Climate, a non-profit and political action committee focused on environmental issues. In 2017, Steyer expanded his ballot of core issues to include immigrant rights, affordable health care and equality and rebranded the organization as NextGen America.

Steyer is also co-founder, with Taylor, of the Beneficial State Bank in Oakland. Taylor is the CEO of the community bank, which the duo launched in 2007 and which aims to serve those individuals and small business owners who are otherwise unable to get access to loans. The community bank, however, does not add to Steyer's cash pile — the Beneficial State Bank reinvests all profits back into the community.

Currently, the former financier is largely focusing his efforts on impeaching President Trump. So far more than 4 million people have signed a digital record calling for Trump to be impeached through NeedToImpeach.com, which Steyer launched to support his efforts.

"A year ago, people around the country wondered what a Donald Trump presidency would look like. It's now 2018, and we have our answer. Our mission is clear — we have to take back the House," says the homepage for Steyer's personal website. "Our movement is going to take action to stand up to this president in 2018, and demand our representatives stand with us. With the people on our side, we're going to send a progressive wave across the country."

Steyer is aggressive in his attacks on Trump.

NextGen America is aiming to bring out half a million young voters in 2018 for the Congressional midterm elections, Governor's races and state legislatures. Steyer is putting $30 million behind the organization's efforts in key states, including New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Nevada and California.

"We are really focused on removing this president," Steyer told the New York Times. "I am willing to do whatever it takes to help save our country. I feel the most important task for me is organizing."

See also:

Warren Buffett on the US economy: 'The tsunami of wealth didn't trickle down. It surged upward'

Richard Branson: Trump administration's marijuana move 'a throwback to the worst days of the failed War on Drugs'

Ex-Apple exec: Thanks to Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, we're addicted to tech — and 'they are the only ones' who can fix it

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  Thursday, 11 Jan 2018 | 12:08 PM ET

Ex-financial regulator wishes he invested in bitcoin back when he was telling everyone to be careful

A former financial regulator said Thursday that he wished he had invested in bitcoin and other popular cryptocurrencies back when he was telling everyone to be careful.

Bart Chilton, a former commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, says he's been calling for cryptocurrency regulation since 2012. In the fall of 2017, when the price of bitcoin was fluctuating, Chilton said he would have sought an investigation into the "precipitous price changes" witnessed.

Chilton said Thursday that it's still the "Wild West" outside the regulated futures market, but added that the massive price fluctuations have since "mellowed out."

"I wish I had been investing when I told everybody to be careful," said Chilton, who says he now owns bitcoin and ethereum. "I had a lot of my friends that said, 'You told me not to invest.' They would have been millionaires."

Exchange operators such as CME Group and Cboe Global Markets have opened their platforms to allow bitcoin futures trading.

"There's a shaking out going on in the digital currency world," Chilton said in the interview with CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "There's a lot of craziness out there, but as we go forward on CME and Chicago Board Options Exchange [I think] it is a first step at regularizing."

The price of bitcoin and other major cryptocurrencies fell this week after South Korea's justice minister announced that a bill is being prepared to ban all cryptocurrency trading in the country, citing concerns regarding virtual currencies. On Thursday the cryptocurrencies rose, rebounding from the declines.

Additionally, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, recently warned that the recent craze over bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies won't end well.

J.P. Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon has criticized bitcoin but recently backpedaled a bit from his earlier comments.

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  Thursday, 11 Jan 2018 | 9:05 AM ET

Warren Buffett watcher echoes warning on bitcoin: 'We're probably near the top of a bubble'

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is right about cryptocurrencies, and the price of bitcoin will be much lower in the near future, a veteran investor told CNBC on Thursday.

Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, warned on Wednesday the recent craze over bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies won't end well. But Buffett added he would not take a short position on bitcoin futures.

"I wouldn't bet against Warren," said John Rogers Jr., chairman and CEO at Ariel Investments. "At the same time, I continue to see everywhere I go, everyone's talking about [cryptocurrencies]. College students, business school students."

"When everyone's talking about it, it makes me feel like we're probably near the top of a bubble," Rogers said in an interview on "Squawk Box." "I agree with Warren."

Rogers, a longtime Buffett watcher and Berkshire shareholder, said investors could see the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies "much, much lower" in about five years.

Buffett's bitcoin comments to CNBC on Wednesday came a day after J.P. Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon backpedaled his earlier criticisms of cryptocurrencies. In September, Dimon called bitcoin a fraud.

The price of bitcoin and other major cryptocurrencies fell sharply Thursday after South Korea's justice minister announced that a bill is being prepared to ban all cryptocurrency trading in the country, citing concerns regarding virtual currencies.

But those declines pale in comparison to bitcoin's more than 1,500 percent surge in the past 12 months.

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About Buffett Watch

  • Warren Buffett is arguably America’s most-admired and most-followed investor. Buffett is the largest shareholder and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the world’s most famous and most generous philanthropists. Legions of investors - from all walks of life - follow Buffett's homespun investment philosophy: invest in what you know, invest in value. Here on CNBC.com's Warren Buffett Watch, we’ll keep you up to date on what the “Oracle of Omaha” is doing by following Buffett's trades, words and deeds.