Buffett Watch

  Monday, 14 Oct 2019 | 4:04 PM ET

Billionaire Marc Benioff: Capitalism has 'led to horrifying inequality' and must be fixed

Marc Benioff co-founded cloud software company Salesforce in 1999, and as a result of the company's success, the 55-year-old is worth $6.3 billion, according to Forbes.

But even as Benioff benefits from capitalism, he criticizes the "horrifying inequality" America's economic system has manifested in an op-ed in The New York Times on Monday.

"Capitalism, I acknowledge, has been good to me," Benioff writes. "But capitalism as it has been practiced in recent decades — with its obsession on maximizing profits for shareholders — has also led to horrifying inequality."

The piece calls for a "new capitalism," which, among other things, would include higher taxes on America's richest, including himself.

"Nationally, increasing taxes on high-income individuals like myself would help generate the trillions of dollars that we desperately need to improve education and health care and fight climate change," he writes.

Benioff also calls on company leaders to be more mindful of their total impact on society.

"First, business leaders need to embrace a broader vision of their responsibilities by looking beyond shareholder return and also measuring their stakeholder return," Benioff says. "This requires that they focus not only on their shareholders, but also on all of their stakeholders — their employees, customers, communities and the planet."

(Not everyone agrees. In response to Benioff's op ed, Anand Giridharadas, author of "Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World," tweeted Monday, "...I don't trust business to behave better voluntarily, any more than I trust cats with mice care," adding that he supports raising taxes on the wealthy. "The best way to get business to behave better is to drastically reduce business's power," Giridharadas tweeted.)

In 2018, 26 people had the same wealth as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a January report from Oxfam. Additionally, the wealth of the global population of billionaires increased by $900 billion in the last year alone and the wealth of the poorest fell by 11%, Oxfam says.

In the United States, the Gini index showed an increased concentration of wealth too. The Gini index is "a standard economic measure of income inequality," according to the United States Census Bureau, in which a score of 0.0 indicates "perfect equality in income distribution" and a 1.0 "indicates total inequality, where one household has all of the income." In 2018, the Gini index for the U.S. was 0.485, according to September's American Community Survey. That's up from 0.482 in 2017.

Benioff joins other billionaires who have taken a stand against income inequality.

Ray Dalio — who founded Bridgewater Associates out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York City in 1975 and grew it into the largest hedge fund in the world — is currently worth almost $19 billion, according to Forbes.

Still, "the American dream is lost," Dalio told CBS' "60 Minutes" in July, and he said that capitalism needs to be reformed.

"We're at a juncture. We can do it together, or we will do it in conflict, that there will be a conflict between the rich and the poor," Dalio said.

Warren Buffett, the third richest person in the world with a fortune worth $82 billion, according to Forbes, does not want to disrupt the productivity of capitalism, which he likens to the "the goose that lays the golden eggs." Instead, Buffett suggests the country ought to better distribute resources (through taxes, for example) to take care of those who don't have enough.

"The real problem, in my view, is — this has been — the prosperity has been unbelievable for the extremely rich people," Buffett said on PBS Newshour in 2017. "This has been a prosperity that's been disproportionately rewarding to the people on top."

And Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, currently the second richest person in the world with more than $105 billion to his name according to Forbes, says capitalism has been effective in generating output, but the wealthiest, like him, ought to be taxed more.

"As you go about doing this additional collection, of course you want to be progressive. You want the portion that comes from the top 1% or top 20% to be much higher," Gates told CNN's Fareed Zakaria in February.

See also:

Hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio: 'Capitalism basically is not working for the majority of people'

Bill Gates: Taxes on rich should be 'much higher' but capitalism still works — here's why

Billionaire Warren Buffett: 'I don't need a tax cut' in a society with so much inequality

»Read more
  Monday, 14 Oct 2019 | 4:03 PM ET

Longtime Berkshire Hathaway shareholder sells stake, accusing Warren Buffett of 'thumb-sucking'

Posted ByFred Imbert
Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett walks through the exhibit hall as shareholders gather to hear from the billionaire investor at Berkshire Hathaway Inc's annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 4, 2019.
Scott Morgan | Reuters
Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett walks through the exhibit hall as shareholders gather to hear from the billionaire investor at Berkshire Hathaway Inc's annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 4, 2019.

David Rolfe, a longtime Berkshire Hathaway shareholder and chief investment officer at Wedgewood Partners, is fed up with Warren Buffett.

Rolfe told clients in a letter he sold the firm's stake in Berkshire after decades of being shareholders, noting his frustration with the conglomerate's massive cash hoard, lackluster investments and what he thinks are missed investment opportunities by the Oracle of Omaha and his team during the current bull market.

Berkshire Hathaway shares have lagged the S&P 500 over the current bull run, which started March 2009. In that time, Berkshire's Class A stock is up 323% while the broad index has gained 334%.

"Thumb-sucking has not cut the Heinz mustard during the Great Bull Market," Rolfe wrote in the third-quarter letter to clients. "The Great Bull could have been one helluva of an astounding career denouement for Messrs. Buffett and [Vice Chairman Charlie] Munger."

Not that Buffett will miss Rolfe much, the RiverPark/Wedgewood Fund owned 48,000 shares of the Berkshire B class of stock, amounting to about $10 million. And Rolfe's performance throughout the bull market has not been the best, either. His fund's annualized returns, net of fees, are 13.6% over the past 10 years through the second quarter, according to a factsheet found in the Wedgewood Partners website. In that time, the S&P 500 has posted an annualized return of 14.7%.

Berkshire's cash pile swelled up to more than $120 billion by the end of the second quarter of 2019, a record for the company. In his annual letter to shareholders, Buffet said he wanted to make an "elephant-sized acquisition" but noted prices were "sky-high." Rolfe thinks so much cash is a "considerable impediment of growth" for the company.

»Read more
  Thursday, 10 Oct 2019 | 10:59 AM ET

Bank of America CEO: Buffett tried to call me on a public call center line—and couldn't get through

Posted ByTaylor Locke

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is regarded as one of the greatest investors alive. Buffett has arguably made some of the most notable investment decisions of our lifetime.

And one of those decisions was to invest $5 billion into Bank of America in 2011 after the financial crisis.

But according to Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, that very important deal hit a remarkably relatable snag early on.

When Buffett reached out to discuss his investment idea with Moynihan in 2011, the Oracle of Omaha simply called a public call center line for the bank and asked for Moynihan — and perhaps unsurprisingly, he did not get through.

"[Buffett] got into the call centers and asked to speak to me," Moynihan told Bloomberg Television in an excerpt from an interview published on Wednesday, "and of course they don't transfer everybody who calls the call centers to the CEO's line."

Luckily, the CFO of Berkshire Hathaway reached out to one of Bank of America's investment bankers, ultimately opening the door for Moynihan to talk to Buffett.

"He literally called me — talked to him for the first time in my life," Moynihan told Bloomberg Television, and the deal came together within a few days. "He does that."

In 2017, Berkshire made $12 billion from the investment.

"The interesting thing is, if you're a common shareholder and bought that day [in 2011], you would have fared as well as [Buffett] did," Moynihan said. "You just had to have the courage, and he had $5 billion at a time where other people didn't have."

Berkshire now has an over 10% stake in the bank, owning 950 million shares.

But the missed call wasn't the only uniquely down-to-earth thing about the Bank of America deal: Buffet told CNBC in 2011 that he came up with the idea for the investment while taking a bath, just a week before he made the phone call.

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  Monday, 7 Oct 2019 | 4:21 PM ET

This chart ranks everyone (even you) by their wealth, and it's a snapshot of inequality

There is massive income inequality in the in the U.S. and in the world, and everyone from political candidates to billionaires is talking about it.

A recent global wealth ranking by Bloomberg Businessweek put a fine point on it. The ranking gives everyone in the world a "wealth number," from -2 (the world's poorest) to 11 (the world's wealthiest).

Only two people get an 11: Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Scoring 11 on the Businessweek ranking means you have $100 billion or more.

There are just 150 people who have a wealth number of 10, a bracket that's entry level net worth is $10 billion (up to just under $100 billion). Elon Musk scores a 10, for example. Individuals with a wealth number 10 can afford to buy a sports team in a major market, the chart says, for context.

Compared to those very small numbers of very rich people, there are 1.3 billion people who have a wealth number of 4, a bracket that's entry level net worth is $10,000 (up to just under $100,000). These individuals are generally, in a "median American family headed by someone who has no college education," the chart says, and can afford a new car, the chart estimates.

At the other end of the scale, 1.5 billion adults reside in the brackets -2 through 2, meaning they have a net worth of less than $1,000, including people with a negative net worth. This population would generally be subsistence farmers and can afford "very little," the chart says. "So you're either poor—or a rich person on a bad day, with liabilities exceeding your assets," according to Businessweek.

You can find your own net worth number on the chart.

Image credit: Bloomberg. Data sources: Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2018 for worth numbers -2 through 8. Bloomberg Billionaires Index for 9-11. Federal Reserve, Financial Samurai, Bloomberg Reporting, Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

One caveat: The numbers of people who are grouped in each net worth number are estimates, because the data used, from both the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, are not exact, Businessweek says. (For example, Bloomberg data says there are 2,800 billionaires while Credit Suisse says there are 1,600.)

"The purchasing power figures are likewise intended to be illustrative, not hard data. For example, we say a 4 can afford a new car. The point isn't that new cars cost $10,000 to $99,999 (although that's the right order of magnitude). It's that you probably need to be a 4 to afford a new car," Bloomberg Businessweek says in the accompanying story. "Although, of course, there are 1s, 2s, and 3s who will stretch to buy one."

What is clear from the chart is how extreme wealth inequality is.

Indeed, in 2018, the world's wealthiest 26 individuals had the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the population, according to an Oxfam report published in January. That's down from the 43 wealthiest people the year before.

During the same period, the wealth of the world's billionaires increased by $900 billion ($2.5 billion per day), while the wealth of the poorest half of the population (3.8 billion people) fell by 11%, the Oxfam report found.

Even some of the billionaires at the top of Businessweek's ranking see a problem with such extreme wealth concentration.

Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg — who, with a net worth of $69.8 billion, according to Bloomberg, would be a No. 10 — was asked Thursday about his thoughts on Sen. Bernie Sanders comment that billionaires should not exist. Zuckerberg said, "I don't know if I have an exact threshold on what amount of money someone should have but at some level no one deserves to have that much money."

"I think if you do something that is good, you get rewarded, but I do think some of the wealth that can be accumulated is unreasonable," Zuckerberg said. (Zuckerberg and his wife, priscilla Chan, have pledged to give away 99% of their Facebook shares through their non-profit, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.)

Bill and Melinda Gates have also said their own wealth is an undue privilege. "No, it's not fair that we have so much wealth when billions of others have so little," said Melinda, in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's 2018 annual letter. "And it's not fair that our wealth opens doors that are closed to most people."

Octogenarian and multi-billionaire Warren Buffett says the economy has overwhelmingly financially rewarded people, like him, who are at the top. Buffett is worth $82.2 billion, and would also be a wealth No. 10 on the chart.

"The real problem, in my view, is — this has been — the prosperity has been unbelievable for the extremely rich people," he said on PBS Newshour in 2017. It "has been disproportionately rewarding to the people on top."

The Gates and Buffett have pledged to give away more than half of their wealth through The Giving Pledge, a public commitment Buffet and Bill Gates founded and launched in August 2010.

And according to billionaire hedge fund guru Ray Dalio, the wealth inequality that exists in the U.S. may have dire consequences. Dalio has a net worth of $16.6 billion according to Bloomberg, and would therefore be a No. 10.

Current wealth inequality is unsustainable and capitalism needs to be reformed, Dalio says. "We're at a juncture. We can do it together, or we will do it in conflict, that there will be a conflict between the rich and the poor," Dalio said on CBS' "60 Minutes" in July.

See also:

Billionaire Ray Dalio: U.S. economy must change or there will be 'conflict' between the rich and poor

Billionaire Warren Buffett says 'the real problem' with the US economy is people like him

Bill Gates: Taxes on rich should be 'much higher' but capitalism still works — here's why

»Read more
  Friday, 27 Sep 2019 | 12:38 PM ET

Here's what Charlie Munger says all young people should know about choosing a career

Posted ByTaylor Locke

Charlie Munger has had the kind of career people dream of. He's been Warren Buffett's right-hand man for the last 40 years, and is more formally known as vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.

With a current net worth of $1.8 billion, Munger, 95, is a source of wisdom in business and investing, and he has some tips for young people just beginning their careers and starting their lives.

In the 2018 edition of "Poor Charlie's Almanack," a book of insight from Charlie Munger throughout his career, editor Peter Kaufman asked Munger what young people should look for in a career.

Munger responded with his three basic rules:

»Read more
  Thursday, 26 Sep 2019 | 12:27 PM ET

Here are smart investing strategies in any market

Posted ByMichelle Fox

If the ups and downs of the stock market have you wondering what to do, you're not alone.

Stocks tanked in August, neared record highs in September and Goldman Sachs is predicting a wild ride in October.

On top of that, a recent UBS survey found that 55% of the ultra-rich see a recession by 2020 and 45% are already adjusting their portfolios to prepare — including shifting to bonds and real estate.

Financial behaviorist Jacquette Timmons said that uncertainty and the lack of control over the market's performance causes many people to fear investing.

"The other thing is trust," she said. "Can you trust yourself to do the right thing? Can you trust the professionals ... are doing the right thing?"

»Read more
  Tuesday, 24 Sep 2019 | 11:52 AM ET

Jeff Bezos would pay $9 billion a year in wealth taxes under Bernie Sanders' plan

Posted ByRobert Frank
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces Blue Moon, a lunar landing vehicle for the Moon, during a Blue Origin event in Washington, DC, May 9, 2019.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces Blue Moon, a lunar landing vehicle for the Moon, during a Blue Origin event in Washington, DC, May 9, 2019.

Jeff Bezos would pay about $9 billion in taxes this year under Sen. Bernie Sanders' proposed wealth tax.

As part of his presidential primary campaign and efforts to outflank the rise of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sanders announced a wealth tax that would hit multibillionaires like Bezos especially hard. The Amazon CEO would pay more in annual wealth taxes than the net worth of the 50 richest Americans as listed by Forbes.

"I don't think billionaires should exist," Sanders told The New York Times. If his tax plan were put into effect, billionaires would lose half their wealth in 15 years, provided all other factors (like their stock prices or business values) remained constant.

While Warren's proposal also taxes billionaires at a higher rate than multimillionaires, Sanders' plan, announced Tuesday, is far more punitive to those at the very top — reflecting the strong support for taxing the rich among certain voters.

Warren's plan would impose a tax of 2% of wealth over $50 million and 3% on wealth over $1 billion. Sanders' plan starts at a lower wealth level – taxing those worth $32 million at 1% – so his tax would hit about 180,000 families versus about 75,000 households under Warren's proposal.

The sliding scale of the Sanders plan also quickly escalates for wealth over $500 million, which would be taxed at 4%. Wealth over $10 billion would be taxed at a rate of 8% — more than four times the highest wealth-tax rates that European countries once imposed. The high rates at the top are the main reason Sanders projects his tax would raise $4.35 trillion over 10 years, compared with Warren's, which is estimated to raise $2.6 trillion.

Here are some examples of the annual wealth tax bill that some of today's top billionaires would pay, in addition to whatever income taxes, property taxes and payroll taxes they already pay.

»Read more
  Tuesday, 24 Sep 2019 | 11:23 AM ET

Before marrying Melinda, Bill Gates wrote the pros and cons of getting married on a whiteboard

In Netflix's three-episode series, "Inside Bill's Brain," Bill Gates and the documentary's director, Davis Guggenheim, are seen playing cards. Gates wins a hand.

"You are lucky in life. And you are lucky in war," Guggenheim says, referring to the card game.

"And love, too," says Gates.

In the documentary, which was released Friday, the 63-year old centibillionaire is obviously grateful for his wife, Melinda. But perhaps that wasn't always so clear.

Bill met Melinda shortly after she joined Microsoft as a product manager in 1987, when they sat next to each other at a business dinner in New York City. After about a year of dating, they came to a crossroads. "You know, we cared a lot for each other and there were only two possibilities: either, we were going to break up or we were going to get married," Bill says.

"He had to make a decision," Melinda says in the documentary series. One day Melinda walked into Bill's bedroom and he was making a list on a whiteboard: "his whiteboard had the pros and the cons of getting married," Melinda says in the series, bursting into laughter at the memory.

It may not be the most romantic thing, but Bill's whiteboard list was reflective of the weight of the decision: "I took the idea of marriage very seriously," Bill says.

Bill's own parents — Bill Gates Sr., an attorney, and Mary Maxwell Gates, a Seattle business woman — were equal partners both in their professional aspirations and their play, Melinda observes.

Bill wasn't sure he was ready to make that kind of commitment because he "wanted to be married, but he didn't know whether he could actually commit to it and [run] Microsoft," Melinda says.

Originally, when Bill and Melinda started dating, the relationship was casual for both of them.

"She had other boyfriends, and I had Microsoft," Bill says. "We were like, 'Hey we are not really serious about each other, are we? We are not going to demand each other's time.'"

Plus, Melinda says, "I was new to Microsoft, there were a lot of men there and ... you are still looking around."

But after about a year, "sort of to our surprise, certainly my surprise, we said, 'Hey, I love you.'" Bill said. "And she said she loved me and then it was like, 'Wow, and now what is going to happen?'"

What happened was Bill asked Melinda to marry him, and in 1994 they tied the knot in Lanai, Hawaii. At the time, Gates was 38 and Melinda was 29, according to the Associated Press.

Today, the husband-and-wife duo co-run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which works on global health and development issues like eradicating polio, improving sanitation systems in impoverished countries and developing clean, affordable energy.

"In the case of Melinda, it is a truly equal partner," Bill says in the documentary. "She's a lot like me in that she is optimistic and she is interested in science. She is better with people than I am. She's a tiny bit less hard core about knowing, you know, immunology, than I am."

And while it's funny to imagine Bill listing the pros and cons of getting married on a whiteboard, it is after all, a big decision. Bill's billionaire buddy Warren Buffett says it's one of the most crucial decisions a person can make.

"You will move in the direction of the people that you associate with. So it's important to associate with people that are better than yourself," Buffett said in a 2017 conversation with Gates at Columbia University.

"And the most important person by far in that respect is your spouse," Buffett said. "I can't overemphasize how important that is."

See also:

Bill Gates on his crazy early days at Microsoft: We ate powdered orange Tang instead of stopping for meals

Bill Gates: A.I. is like nuclear energy — 'both promising and dangerous'

Bill and Melinda Gates: No matter where you're born, 'life will be harder if you are born a girl'

»Read more
  Sunday, 22 Sep 2019 | 9:15 AM ET

Warren Buffett has kept the same investing philosophy for decades, early interview shows

Posted ByThomas Franck
Portrait of Warren Buffett, January 1980.
Lee Balterman | The LIFE Images Collection | Getty Images
Portrait of Warren Buffett, January 1980.

The U.S. stock market has seen remarkable change over the last 34 years between the meteoric rise of low-cost passive investing, algorithmic trading and the real-time digitization of financial filings.

But Wall Street's most revered investor, decades later, is still touting the same advice.

In one of Warren Buffett's first televised profiles, the "Oracle of Omaha" explained a simple method of investing that prioritizes an insatiable hunt for bargains, patience, and the occasional baseball analogy. A video of the interview circulated on Twitter on Monday after being shared by user Lyall Taylor.

"In the securities business, you literally every day have thousands of the major American corporations offered to you at a price and at a price that changes daily. And you don't have to make any decisions. Nothing is forced upon you. There are no called strikes in the business," Buffett said.

"They may be wonderful pitches to swing at, but if you don't know enough, you don't have to swing. And you can sit there and watch thousands of pitches and finally you get one right there where you want it ... and then you swing," he continued.

If Buffett's advice from PBS's "Adam Smith's Money World" more than 30 years ago rings a bell, it's likely because he's hardly changed his tune over his many profitable years on Wall Street.

Berkshire Hathaway has posted average annual returns of 17.1% since 1985, well ahead of the broader stock market's 10.5% including dividends. If you'd invested $10,000 in Berkshire Hathaway at the start of 1985 you'd now have $2.4 million; the same principal in the S&P 500 would now be worth about $227,000.

»Read more
  Thursday, 19 Sep 2019 | 12:55 PM ET

Mark Cuban: 7 money and career tips for young people to survive a recession

The Great Recession lasted from December 2007 through June 2009 and was the longest economic downturn since World War II. And now, a decade out from that recession, there is talk and worry that another one is coming.

More than half of U.S. CFOs (53%) believe the country will be in a recession by the end of the third quarter next year, a new survey from Duke University showed. And the number of Google searchesfor the word "recession" even spiked at the end of July.

The resulting anxiety has people looking for advice on how to prepare and what to expect.

One Twitter user asked billionaire tech entrepreneur and star of ABC's "Shark Tank," Mark Cuban, for advice: "Hey Mark! I have a question I think many people would like to hear you answer. With all the talks of a Recession coming, what do you think will help someone going through it for the first time? For example 'Millennials.'"

In response, Cuban tweeted a prescription. Here are Cuban's seven pieces of advice to prepare for an economic downturn.

»Read more

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.