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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 06:07 GMT 07:07 UK
Warren Buffett dishes out advice

By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

Warren Buffett
Mr Buffett has been in business for more than 60 years

To watch Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger perform on stage is like witnessing one of the great double acts.

The Berkshire Hathaway investment gurus certainly dispense one-liners with the best.

There's magnetism as they opine with wit together.

One sets up the other one's quip.

Usually, it's dead-pan Munger and funny-man Buffett.


As they played to the crowd of nearly 20,000 shareholders in their own home town, Mr Buffett conveyed his joy:

"We feel like singing 'My Way'."

To which Munger replied; "I haven't had so much fun since my sister won the large tomato growing contest in Greater Omaha". The difference between this duo and your average act is that Buffett & Munger intersperse their wit with a mountain of wisdom - profitable wisdom for the shareholders who glow with the astounding growth of their holdings.

After all, if you bought a share in Berkshire Hathaway in 1978 for $175, you could sell it now for $93,390.

Natural talent

Warren Buffett, now 73, has been in business for more than 60 years.

We just look for a good business, run by sensible people at a good price
Warren Buffett
He started as a boy with a newspaper round in Omaha and made so much money from it that he bought a parcel of agricultural land to rent to farmers.

Before he had even started college, he had set up another business hiring out pin-ball machines to local barbers.

On the stage at the 2004 Omaha meeting, he and his partner, Charlie, dispensed wisdom which - once they'd uttered it - seemed completely obvious.

It's just not the way most of the rest of business sees or does things.

The whole course

On which businesses to buy, for example, Mr Buffett said: "We just look for a good business, run by sensible people at a good price".

There's been an explosion in raw material prices
Charlie Munger
Obvious enough, but it meant that Berkshire Hathaway shunned internet companies while everybody else waded in.

Berkshire's style is to acquire more solid, unglamorous companies which are fundamentally sound but undervalued and then strengthen them so a truer value is realised.

The point is to make the investment to keep the company.

"We look at investments like you look at an eighteen-hole golf course," Mr Buffett said.

The idea is that you might perform better on some holes than others, but the whole course is the point - not getting out after a few good holes.

On the current economic situation, Mr Buffett said there's clearly improvement.

But the evidence from the Berkshire-Hathaway companies is that inflation is on the way back.

As the two partners put it, virtually with one voice:

"There's been an explosion in raw material prices," according to Mr Munger.

"We're going to see inflation heat up," responded Mr Buffett, followed by Mr Munger: "That growth in demand in China," talking about steel prices.

"Once prices start increasing, it's contagious," finished Buffett.

Making money

Business was clearly in Buffett's blood.

As a child he was obsessed by numbers and with spotting opportunity.

When as a lad he was taken to New York, he went to Wall Street.

When he went to New York again as a student, he learnt much at Columbia University from Benjamin Graham, though you get the feeling that the teaching only confirmed a previously determined course.

Warren Buffett has made his billions without attracting opprobrium.

He was always suspicious of the era when money-making seemed effortless.

Crime was the result, he feels:

"Every time you hand out free money, other things happen."

Intellectual exercise

And Mr Buffett does seem a genuinely likeable, unaffected man.

He seems to like money not for what it will buy but for the access it gives to interesting people - like President Clinton or Bill Gates.

He has got a private jet but not a fancy car.

He lives in an unspectacular house in Omaha on a tree-lined street.

He goes to the same unglamorous steak bar each week.

For him, it is about fun and intellectual exercise as much as about spending.

Buffett's Coke role questioned
12 Apr 04  |  Business

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