Buffett: Goldman Sachs, GE $8B deals during the financial crisis were "peanuts"
Spoke to 35,000 shareholders who attended Berkshire's annual meeting in Omaha
Warren Buffett said his deals to pump $8bn into Goldman Sachs and General Electric during the financial crisis were “peanuts” compared to the big acquisitions his eventual successor at Berkshire Hathaway would be expected to make.
“These deals have not been key,” said Mr Buffett, who recently considered a $22bn purchase and said the company could spend $30bn on an acquisition next year.
Speaking to 35,000 shareholders who attended Berkshire’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday, the billionaire investor also repeated his call for the so-called “Buffett rule” – to restore tax rates for the rich to their 1992 levels.
“People making $30m, $40m, $50m a year need to be paying 30 per cent a year,” he said. To a suggestion that he avoid politics, he said: “I will not put my citizenship in a blind trust.”
On the question of succession, the 81-year-old investor known as the “Sage of Omaha” described his recent diagnosis of prostate cancer as a “non-event”. He was more likely to be killed by a jealous husband, he added.
Mr Buffett has refused to name his chosen successor but said the man “has the culture of the company deeply embedded”.
While he acknowledged that the man would not necessarily be offered opportunities such as buying $5bn of preferred stock in Goldman at attractive terms, he said the new chief executive would be more energetic and “in many ways he will be better than I am”.
Mr Buffett again praised Ajit Jain, head of Berkshire’s reinsurance business and a potential candidate for the top job.
He also asked Greg Abel, head of Berkshire’s utility company MidAmerican Energy and another possible successor, to confirm that the group would not have built 3,000 megawatts of wind power generation without government subsidies.
Berkshire was able to take advantage because it paid corporate taxes, said Mr Buffett, adding: “I would guess that 80 per cent of utilities in the US cannot reap full tax benefits, or any tax benefits, because they don’t pay any federal income taxes.”
On the outlook, Mr Buffett said that while he paid no attention to the economy when it came to buying companies, he was still concerned about Europe’s banks.
He praised Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, for providing emergency liquidity but was sceptical of Europe’s ability to act in concert as voters went to the polls across the continent.
Berkshire owns 7.6 per cent of Wells Fargo and Mr Buffett said the health of European banks compared to those in the US was like “night and day”.
He said that had the problems of 2008 been faced by US state governors attempting to act together, “we would have had a very different outcome”.