Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, was joined by his long-time business partner Charlie Munger and Berkshire’s heads of insurance and non-insurance operations, Ajit Jain and Greg Abel.
Buffett and his associates spoke about the company’s performance and answered questions from shareholders and others on market speculation, Apple, SPACs, Robinhood, Elon Musk, Bitcoin, the U.S. economy and other subjects.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the event.
Regarding the explosive popularity of trading apps like Robinhood, Buffett said, “Robinhood has become a very significant part of the casino aspect of the casino group that has joined into the stock market in the last year or year and a half.”
“There’s nothing illegal about it. There’s nothing immoral, but I don’t think you’d build a society around people doing it,” Buffett added.
“I think the degree to which a very rich society can reward people who know how to take advantage, essentially, of the gambling instincts of the American public, the worldwide public — it’s not the most admirable part of the accomplishment.”
Munger said it’s “God-awful that something like that would draw investment from civilized men and decent citizens. It’s deeply wrong. We don’t want to make our money selling things that are bad for people.”
On Big Tech Growth Stocks
While talking about tech company stocks and their growth, Munger said, “I personally would not like to see our present giants brought down to some low level by some anti-competitive reasonings. … I think they’re a credit to the Americans, credit to our civilization.”
On Chevron and Climate Change
When asked about Berkshire’s decision to invest in the oil and gas industry and queried whether we might have “build our own unrealistic consensus on the pace of change” to clean energy solutions, Buffett defended the company’s investment in Chevron and in the industry.
“Chevron is not an evil company in the least, and I have no compunction about owning it in the least, about owning Chevron. And if we owned the entire business, I would not feel uncomfortable about being in that business.”
Talking about the Berkshire board of directors’ recommendation to vote against reporting climate-related risks, Munger added, “I don’t know we know the answer to all these questions about global warming. The people who ask the questions think they know the answer. We’re just more modest.”
On the outlook for fossil fuels, Buffett said, “I would say that people that are on the extremes of both sides are a little nuts. … I would hate to have all the hydrocarbons banned in three years… and on the other hand, what’s happening [with climate change] will be adapted to over time just as we’ve adapted to all kinds of things.”
On Politics and Biden
Talking about U.S. President Joe Biden, Buffett said, “When I’m sitting at a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting presumably speaking for Berkshire, I don’t really like to get into political questions generally, and I don’t really think I should. But I also think if somebody asked me who I voted for in the last election as a personal question — I voted for Biden. But I’ve never asked a single employee of ours who they voted for or anything of the sort.”
Answering a question about Biden’s tax proposals, Buffett said he doesn’t leave his politics at the door, but he refrains from speaking on behalf of Berkshire. “I am not at all concerned about higher taxes,” he added.
On this Munger slammed critics of capitalism and said that a capitalist economy has been key to American prosperity. “I’m a little wary of just constantly being mad at people because they have a little more money,” he said.
Munger added that he believes it’s “stupid” for states to drive out rich people and lose out on their tax contributions.
On Elon Musk and SpaceX
A shareholder asked the head of Berkshire’s insurance business Ajit Jain whether he would be hypothetically willing to write an insurance policy for SpaceX founder Elon Musk for his proposed colonization of Mars.
“This is an easy one. No, thank you, I’ll pass,” Jain said.
Buffett added, “Well, I would say it would depend on the premium. And I would say that I would probably have a somewhat different rate if Elon was on board or not on board. It makes a difference if someone is asking to insure something.”
On Apple Stock
While talking about selling some of Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) stock in 2020, Buffett said it was “probably a mistake,” with shares rising even further this year following the tech-led 2020 boom in the markets.
“The brand and the product — it’s an incredible product,” Buffett said of Apple. “It is indispensable to people.”
“I sold some stock last year, although our shareholders still saw their shares go up because we repurchased shares. But that was probably a mistake.”
Berkshire owned 907,559,761 shares of Apple as of the end of December 2020 for a total market value of $120.4 billion.
Learn more: How to Buy Apple (AAPL) Stock
Talking about special purpose acquisition companies (SPAC), Buffett said, “The SPACs generally have to spend their money in two years, as I understand it. If you have to buy a business in two years, you put a gun to my head and said, ‘You’ve got to buy a business in two years,’ I’d buy one but it wouldn’t be much of one.”
“If you’re running money from somebody else and you get a fee and you get the upside and you don’t have the downside, you’re going to buy something,” he added. “And frankly we’re not competitive with that. It’s an exaggerated version of what we’ve seen in kind of a gambling-type market.”
On S&P 500
Speaking about the S&P 500 index, Buffett said that most investors would benefit from simply purchasing an S&P 500 index fund over the long run rather than picking individual stocks, even including Berkshire Hathaway.
“I recommend the S&P 500 index fund. I’ve never recommended Berkshire to anybody because I don’t want people to buy it because they think I’m tipping them into something. On my death there’s a fund for my then-widow and 90% will go into an S&P 500 index fund,” he said.
About index funds, Munger said, “I personally prefer holding Berkshire to holding the market,” he said in response to the same question. “I’m quite comfortable holding Berkshire. I think our businesses are better than the average in the market.”
Buffett dodged a question about Bitcoin (CRYPTO: BTC), but Munger didn’t:
“Those who know me well are just waving the red flag to the bull. Of course, I hate the Bitcoin success. I don’t welcome a currency that’s so useful to kidnappers and extortionists and so forth. Nor do I like just shuffling out a few extra billions and billions and billions of dollars to someone who just invented a new financial product out of thin air. I think I should say modestly that I think the whole damned development is disgusting and contrary to the interests of civilization, and I’ll leave the criticism to others.”
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