If you didn't get enough of Warren Buffett in his Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) annual chairman's letter released over the weekend, the "Oracle of Omaha" was on CNBC for three hours yesterday morning. What a strange romance it is between Mr. Buffett and the financial news network.
Mr. Buffett really seems to love being on the channel -- enough so that he arrived at the Omaha restaurant where the CNBC crew was waiting for him at 4:45 a.m., local time. He managed to remind the reporter, Becky Quick, that he recently dined with her boss, GE chief Jeffrey Immelt. Berkshire's $3 billion investment in GE, which, until the Comcast deal closes, remains CNBC's parent, and, even after that deal, will remain a significant minority investor in CNBC's parent, is mentioned just in passing.
Mr. Buffett does have some interesting things to say on health care: "There's a bunch of smart--there's a bunch of people that have some great private market--or free market ideas." He seems to be in favor of driving down health care expenditures as a percentage of U.S. GDP, even though Berkshire owns stock in Sanofi-Aventis (SNY), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and GE, all of which benefit from more health care spending.
Is Mr. Buffett, for once, not talking his own book? Not to hear him tell it: "I'm not in the health care business." Mr. Buffett said. He seemed to, perhaps, be talking about the health insurance business, but the truth is, if you took Berkshire as a whole, a reduction in health care costs would probably save the company more in expenses than it would cost the company in profits from the Sanofi-Aventis, Johnson & Johnson, and GE holdings.
On financial regulation, he says, "there are going to be too big to fail institutions. I mean, we can't get away from it. This is a world of scale."
And on whether Coke (KO), in which Berkshire is an investor, is contributing to childhood obesity and diabetes, Mr. Buffett had this to say: "If I eat more than 2500 calories a day, I'm going to gain weight. If I eat less than 2500 a day I'm going to lose weight. I'd like to choose the 2500 calories that I eat, and if, you know, if I--it's just a question of how many calories you stuff in your mouth, basically, and there's a lot of ways to do it. And if somebody told me that I live a year longer by eating nothing but broccoli and asparagus from now on, I would just say, it would just feel like I'm--every day will seem like as long. I'll stick with--I'll stick with the Cheetos and the Coke. "
One item that probably raised a lot of writers' eyebrows was this:
BUFFETT: Yeah, it probably does. But the truth is, I would get people that know a lot more about it than I do. And, I mean, it--if you get the fellow that's written on health care recently in the New Yorker, Gawande. I mean, he had--he had an article last summer that was absolutely magnificent. My partner Charlie Munger sat down and wrote out a check for $20,000 to him and he's never met him, never had any correspondence with it, he just mailed it to the New Yorker and he said, 'This article is so useful socially.' He says, 'Just give this as a gift to the--to Dr. Gawande.'
I asked Dr. Atul Gawande if the $20,000 from Charles Munger ever reached him, and, if so, what he did with it. The doctor wrote back quickly with an answer: "It was a flattering gesture and I donated the check to the Brigham and Women's Hospital's Center for Surgery and Public Health for an international project I'm leading to introduce low-cost oxygen monitors in low-income countries without access to this basic medical equipment to reduce avoidable deaths."Download the 2009 Warren Buffett Letter & 2009 Annual Report to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders
Download the 1977 - 2009 Warren Buffett Letter's to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders
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