CNBC Transcript: Billionaire Investor Warren Buffett Speaks with CNBC’s Becky Quick in Interview Airing Today
The following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Billionaire Investor Warren Buffett and CNBC’s Becky Quick which aired during CNBC’s “Squawk Box” today, Friday, May 3rd, ahead of the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting. The interview took place in Omaha, Nebraska on Thursday evening.
CNBC’s Becky Quick will speak with billionaire investor Warren Buffett Monday, May 6th for all three hours of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” (M-F, 6AM-9AM ET) live from Omaha, Nebraska, following the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting. Buffett will be live from 6:00-9:00AM ET. Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B), and Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder & Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will join from 8:00-9:00AM ET. (Link)
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BECKY QUICK: Hi, Warren. How are you?
WARREN BUFFETT: What are you doing in Omaha?
BECKY QUICK: I'm just in town kind of passing through, thought I'd stop by.
WARREN BUFFETT: It’s a tourist stop, yeah.
BECKY QUICK: It is. Are you ready for this weekend?
WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah, I'm ready for this weekend, sure.
BECKY QUICK: Is this your favorite weekend of the year?
WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah, I would say so. Yeah. Yeah.
BECKY QUICK: What are you expecting with the crowds here this year?
WARREN BUFFETT: It should just -- it should at least match the record. And in terms of tickets we sent out, it was just a touch higher than the record year. It fell off the first year when Yahoo started webcasting it and then it's come back so it'll be it'll certainly tie the high.
BECKY QUICK: Now, there's a lot of things that are happening but as we were building up this week kind of heading into things we heard about the deal where you're stepping in and backing Occidental and it's been to take over Anadarko. How did that come together?
WARREN BUFFETT: Well it happened right here. The -- on last Friday, less than a week ago, last Friday I got a call in the middle of the afternoon from Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, and he said that they were involved in financing the Occidental deal and that the Occidental people would like to talk to me. And I said fine I could talk to him anytime. And you know later on and said this that the CEO was traveling and that she called me the following morning so she called me about 9:00 on Saturday and I said I'd meet with her any time on Saturday or Sunday. So, we scheduled me for 10:00 on Sunday morning and she and Oscar Brown came— arrived at 10:00 and by 11:00 we had a deal. And they had us committed unequivocally come hell or high water for 10 billion dollars and if the deal is made with Anadarko. So, they had to get their own board approval but they walked away with it, 9/11 happened or anything like that, they had 10 billion dollars for the deal.
BECKY QUICK: Did you do this because you're betting on the oil industry or the Permian Basin or on oil prices or is this just the terms of the deal itself?
WARREN BUFFETT: Well, oil prices are the big determinant over time, obviously, if you're in oil. Same things true if you're in copper. So, oil prices are enormously important. But, I was familiar with Occidental, and generally familiar with the Permian Basin—although I've ever been there, and if I were there I wouldn't know what to do. But no, it was a sensible deal for us, and a sensible deal for them. And that's -- I proposed it and they decided whether it made sense and then when we finished at 11 they went back to the plane. I called Ron Olson and it was he's on the west coast it was 9:00 his time and I said we need to get this done by tomorrow evening and I said Cravath will be there lawyers and I assume they'll get similar instructions. So just make -- whatever it takes to get it. And, then within 10 minutes, Ron had a couple people working on it.
BECKY QUICK: You mentioned the plane and there was a story I'm not sure if you saw that about the the plane that Occidental took out here got picked up by some people who were scouting for it and someone wrote an article about it. And a guy who'd been tracking it saying, ‘Hey, maybe this is what's really happening there.’
WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah, I’ve read about that service-- I read about years ago where people track plane numbers and try to make deductions and particularly some small town where there's only one employer or something of the sort. So, the fellow turned out, whoever it was, turned out to be correct. But I think I should point out anybody out there who wants to do business with us that if they take a NetJets plane nobody will be able to track them. And we might, for those of you who don't know, we might own -- if we do own NetJets. And it really it really does make a difference. I mean, you cannot track who is going from here to there. And if you use a company plane, it's a big way of running a billboard that I'm in town for something.
BECKY QUICK: Good commercial for NetJets. On the way with that, I don't know if you saw it but Charlie gave an interview today to “The Wall Street Journal” and he said that he wishes Tim Sloan was still running the bank. Do you?
WARREN BUFFETT: Well I was 100% behind Tim Sloan, as I told you, the day that it turned out that his resignation was announced. He told me the day before but I think Tim Sloan, from everything I know about him, was an excellent banker and I was delighted when he was running the bank. And it just got so he felt he couldn't be helpful under the circumstances that existed to Washington so he decided to resign but I would have never asked for the resignation.
BECKY QUICK: There have been some other headlines that came out of that. Charlie said he wished—he doesn't want a Wall Street guy making the damn decisions around there. I think that's what he said, the damn decisions.
WARREN BUFFETT: He maybe even said worse than that.
BECKY QUICK: Yeah. You have said similar things. You said it a little more politic than he did. But what's wrong with a Wall Street guy or a Wall Street woman? Why would you want a mainstream Baker versus Wall Street?
WARREN BUFFETT: Actually, there are plenty of people in Wall Street that would be very capable – not plenty, but, you know, certainly dozens who would be capable running Wells Fargo. But they would not be – they would be pinatas from now until the election time. And they would face questions that aren't leading questions but the Senators and Congressmen that are using a hearing to make a statement and they wouldn't be listening to what they said or anything of the sort. They'd be poison in Washington. And Wells doesn't need poison in Washington. Frankly, anybody that wants a job and is good enough to take that job shouldn't want it either. I mean it's a terrible way to spend your time.
BECKY QUICK: Right. Just in terms of what Washington’s doing. So, it's nothing you have against Wall Street it's just—
WARREN BUFFETT: Oh no, there’s-- I mean, we own stock in JPMorgan. We own stock in Goldman Sachs—
BECKY QUICK: Bank of America, Goldman Sachs--
WARREN BUFFETT: Certainly. I mean, no, no, there's a lot of people that are very capable of running very good banks. I think we've got the very best of them. That they -- it's just under these political circumstances, Wall Street associated with banks, associated with one that people can make political speeches about, is just going to be poison between now and the election.
BECKY QUICK: Charlie had a few other things to say. Let me quote a few things to you. Because he really laid into Dick Kovacevich and John Stumpf. Here's what he said about Dick Kovacevich: he never listened to anybody, he never stops talking and he's full of himself he would not learn anything from anybody. What do you think?
WARREN BUFFETT: I like Dick Kovacevich. Dick expresses himself very forcefully, Charlie expresses himself forcefully and maybe the two don't mix that well.
BECKY QUICK: But you like Dick Kovacevich?
WARREN BUFFETT: Ah, Dick, I mean, you know, he was there during the financial panic. And, you know, Wells came out of the panic better than I think any major bank. And when Wachovia needed saving it was it was great that Wells was there. And Kovacevich I believe was running the bank. I'm not sure exactly when he turned the baton over to John.
BECKY QUICK: Well, speaking of John Stumpf here's what Charlie had to say about him. He said he was almost as bad but not so loud and persistent.
WARREN BUFFETT: Well, I don’t – I would say he was as good, and you can follow the rest of it.
BECKY QUICK: You're going to have more things to probably clean up from Charlie after he says these things this week.
WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah, this is just a warmup for this weekend. I mean, I’m glad you’re sort of getting me in shape here.
BECKY QUICK: Wanted to talk to you, just what you thought about Apple’s earnings. They just came out this past week. Better than a lot of people have been expecting. Were they better than you had been expecting?
WARREN BUFFETT: Well I don't really have big expectations about quarterly earnings, even with Berkshire, I mean. So, I was pleased with what they reported them but it wasn't like I had something going in my mind: if they reported X, I was going to be happy and if they reported of 98% of X I was panicked or something of the sort. But what they talked about and reported is consistent with my – the reason we own, you know, fifty billion dollars plus of Apple.
BECKY QUICK: Have you been buying more Apple?
WARREN BUFFETT: We haven't changed our holdings, unless, and I haven't no reason to think it's true, but we -- there's one fellow that owns a little 1% of our holdings in the office and I don't -- I don't see what he does, But I have no reason to think he's bought or sold Apple.
BECKY QUICK: Once in a while you'll tell us something you're buying or selling. Anything else you're buying or selling these days?
WARREN BUFFETT: I wouldn’t tell you if I was. I will tell you one thing. I'll tell you one thing you'll see in the 13F which comes out in a couple of weeks which may cause you to ask me that question in two weeks but doesn't really -- is not significant, from my standpoint. One of the two other fellows in the office that managed money—
BECKY QUICK: Todd and Ted.
WARREN BUFFETT: Todd and Ted. One of them bought some Amazon, so it will show up on the 13F. It is not true to say that I am buying Amazon. It's true to say that Berkshire is what whatever shows up there.
BECKY QUICK: Although you've been a fan of Amazon and Jeff Bezos for a long time.
WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah, I've been a fan and I’ve been an idiot for not buying, but I just want you to know that it's no personality changes taking place or anything. It’s somebody else's.
BECKY QUICK: Okay so we'll keep that in mind when that comes out in a couple weeks. We did just hear from the Federal Reserve this week. Jay Powell the Chairman making some news on Wednesday when he said that he thinks inflation is transitory. Do you think inflation is transitory? I think transitory was the word—
WARREN BUFFETT: The lack of inflation—
BECKY QUICK: Yeah. The lack of inflation. Meaning that-- look the Street took it to mean that he could raise rates, that that might be the next move, when there were people thinking he might lower rates. What do you think?
WARREN BUFFETT: So he was saying in effect that that the abatement – the modest---
BECKY QUICK: Right. That we're not going to say there's no inflation for forever.
WARREN BUFFETT: Well, I agree with him. I don't know anything about what's going to happen where or what the Fed is going to do or anything else. But I think that – I don't think our present conditions can exist in terms of fiscal and monetary policy and various other elements of the political landscape. I don't think they can coexist with really low inflation rates over time. But I've been wrong on that for some time, I may be wrong for a long time in the future. I would say this: there's nobody better to run the Federal Reserve then – or be the Chairman of it then Jay Powell. I've had some experience with him in the past and he is -- he would be my choice.
BECKY QUICK: Just in terms of things you might be surprised by, I'm stunned that we're still looking at a tenure with a two and a half percent yield.
WARREN BUFFETT: Well that's what -- I can't reconcile a five percent budget deficit in a world of law when unemployment low interest rates negative interest rates in many countries. No economics textbook I know that was written the first couple thousand years discussed even the possibility that you could have this sort of a situation continue and have all the variables stay more or less the same. So, I think of change. I don't know when. I don't know to what degree. I don't know what part of it'll change. But I don't think this can be done without leading to other things. In economics, like other things, you could never do only one thing. And we will look back at this period and be surprised that we didn't see what was coming next.
BECKY QUICK: Warren I want to thank you for your time today I know you have a lot of things that you have on your agenda but thank you very much.
WARREN BUFFETT: Well thanks for coming.
BECKY QUICK: Thank you for catching up.
WARREN BUFFETT: Okay.
BECKY QUICK: We’ll see you later. Take care.
WARREN BUFFETT: Okay.
BECKY QUICK: Bye bye.