What's your opinion on investing in foreign stocks?
We have a number of businesses that derive very significant percentages of their revenue from international operations. Coca-Cola earns 80% or more from their international operations; Gillette will earn two thirds or more from international operations, so we get a lot from outside the United States. It's a slight advantage to us having U.S.-domiciled companies. For instance, we get better treatment on the dividends if they are domestically based because of the way the U.S. tax laws go. But if Coca-Cola were domiciled in Amsterdam or if Gillette was in London, we would still be attracted to them to virtually the same degree we are now. We look at businesses domiciled outside this country--many don't meet our size requirements, but that's true here, too--but we have nothing against buying companies that are domiciled outside the United States. We will keep looking; we need to look everywhere with the kind of money we have today available for investment. Charlie?
[CM: Again, we have a wonderful way of playing the rapid development of companies outside the United States. So far, we haven't seen anything that has attracted us as being better. If you can sell Coca-Cola, do you really want to get into steel in Malaysia or something?]
Some things travel very well, and some things don't. Gillette travels, Disney travels, McDonald's travels, Coke travels; See's candy doesn't travel as well. It might if you spent 50 years working on it, but it's not an easy thing to travel. Actually, candy bars themselves don't travel very well; if you look at the top-selling candy bars in France or in England or in Japan, you don't find the similarity you find in terms of the best-selling soft drinks or movies or fast food hamburgers or razor blades.
[CM: Except Snickers! (laughter) For some reason, Snickers.
Charlie's got a lot of experience. You may want to invest where we invest, but you don't want to eat where we eat. (laughter)
Source: BRK Annual Meeting 1997
Time: May 1997
[Comments on investing in Europe]
One disadvantage to buying a stock in the UK is that you have to report your holding once you reach the 3% level. So, for a stock with a $5 billion market cap, we’d have to report [and likely run the stock up] once we’d acquired only $150 million. But in the past, we’ve owned Guinness, which is now owned by Diageo, so this is not an overwhelming disadvantage. We’d be very comfortable owning many UK companies.
Incidentally, contrary to what’s been reported, we do not have to report a 5% position within 10 days [referring to reports in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere that Berkshire would have to file on its recently disclosed purchase of Anheuser-Busch stock if it held more than 5% of the shares outstanding].
[CM: Recently we’ve preferred the currencies of socialized Europe over the U.S. dollar. A queer occurrence...]
I remember when I’d come back from Europe and couldn’t wait to convert my euros back to dollars.
Europe isn’t doing as badly as you might think. Its growth rate is lower than ours, but our population is expanding a lot faster, so on a per capital basis, the gap is not as wide as you’d think.
Source: BRK Annual Meeting 2005 Tilson Notes
What are your requirements for investments outside the U.S.?
We rule out any markets that aren’t big enough. We need to make investments in the hundreds-of-million-dollar-size range, so that rules out a lot of ansparency matters; the accounting doesn?’t matter so much to us. As long as we are able to value what?’s underneath of it, we?’ll invest. Remember though, that something like 53% of all the value of the public companies in the world is here in the U.S., so we are a big piece of the pie.
Source: BRK Annual Meeting 1999
[RE: Declining U.S. Dollar]
We think the dollar, over time, unless policies change in a major way, will likely decline somewhat more against most major currencies. At one time, we backed this up with $22 billion in foreign currencies, but then the carry made that an expensive way to express that belief, so now we buy into companies that earn a lot in foreign currencies. It’s a factor, but not a 50% factor, in what we buy.
We’re following policies in this country that will lead to a decline in the dollar – the fundamental forces are fairly strong.
We own one currency position right now that will surprise you – we’ll tell you about it next year.
Munger: The inflation factor at Costco is zero. It’s perfectly amazing how well we’ve done so far.
Buffett: Look at oil going from $30 to $60 and the euro from 83 cents [per dollar] to $1.35, so the price of oil for Europeans has gone up very little – 25% vs. 100% for us. It’s easy to anchor on your own currency.
You’ll have to think more about currency than you have. Around the world, others think about currencies, but the average American hasn’t had to.
Source: BRK Annual Meeting 2007 Tilson Notes
When looking at other countries Mr. Buffett,do you look at the country’s overall financial status or do you look at the financials of that specific company in a foreign country? You mentioned investing in Korean companies – do you ever look at the state of the country you are investing in?
We care about the country where the company is run. There is a disadvantage being outside of the US. A few years ago we were looking to invest in either PetroChina or Yukos in Russia. We ended up picking PetroChina because the political situation was more stable. It turned out to be a good decision. I care about the country and the geopolitical environment I am investing e whole company was selling for $35 billion. It was selling for one-fourth of the price of Exxon, but was making profits equal to 80% of Exxon. I was reading the annual report one day and in it I saw a message from the Chairman saying that the company would pay out 45% of its profits as dividends. This was much more than any company like this, and I liked the reserves. If it were a US company, it would sell for $85 billion;it’s a good, solid company. I don’t understand the Chinese culture like I understand the US culture. However it said right in their annual report that they will payout 45% of their earnings as dividends, basically they say if they make money they will pay it out.
I invested $450 million and its now worth $3.5 billion. I decided I’d rather be in China than Russia.I liked the investment climate better in China. In July, the owner of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky (at that time, the richest man in Russia) had breakfast with me and was asking for my consultation if they should expand into New York and if this was too onerous considering the SEC regulations. Four months later, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was in prison. Putin put him in. He took on Putin and lost. His decision on geopolitical thinking was wrong and now the company is finished.
PetroChina was the superior investment choice. 45% was a crazy amount of dividends to offer but China kept its word.
I am never quite as happy as I am in the US, because the laws are more uncertain elsewhere, but the point is to buy things cheap. Russia is just a bad geopolitical environment. On the other hand, China has kept their word on paying the dividends. In fact, when the dividends check comes in, it is calculated out 10 or so decimals, these guys keep their word. I don’t know the tax laws in China, but you can buy a good business cheap. At Berkshire Hathaway, you have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to move the needle. We have a problem of finding things worth investing in.
Source: Student Visit 2007
Time: January 2007
1/8th of world is in India. Why aren’t you investing in India?
WB: That is a good question. We have connections there. In insurance, there are distinct restrictions at what we can do in India. As of yesterday, I agreed next March to go to India, because of what our Iscar business is doing there. India will grow, and Iscar belongs in every industrial country in world. We have good sized operation there. We don’t rule out India. Posco – they have big plans for India.
CM: One trouble that India presents is that the government is causing paralysis, endless due process. Planning, approvals, zoning is hard. Wise founder of modern Singapore said that China will grow faster than India because government causes less paralysis. Countries are different, and while we kind of admire the democracy that causes the paralysis, we still don’t admire the paralysis.
WB: Countries learn much from each other, and many have learned from USA. Maybe they can steal some ideas, and improve on us. We ought to figure out a lot of ways to do business in those countries. My preference is insurance which I understand. Both China and India do limit us right now, of what we can own and how much. Why put my managerial talent to work on something where we only own 20% vs 100%? But we remain interested because people in China and India will live better 20 yrs from now.
Source: BRK Annual Meeting 2010 Boodell Notes
How large is the universe of companies whose intrinsic value you know? Why invest in South Korea or China?
WB: Our immediate decision is whether we can figure it out. We are thought to be rude sometimes, when really we are just being polite in not wasting someone’s time. We know very early in a conversation whether what someone is talking about is actionable. We don’t worry about stuff we miss. We know there are many things that we won’t know enough about when we finish thinking about it, so we throw it out. We make a decision in five minutes. We know about a lot of industries, and there are some things we don’t understand. We like to expand our universe of knowledge. If we can’t make a decision in five minutes, we can’t learn enough in five months. If we get a call, with a business for sale or I am reading a paper or 10-K [annual company SEC filing], we will move right then if there’s a big difference between price and value.
CM: We can make a lot of decisions about a lot of things very fast and very easily, and we are unusual in that. The reason is that there is such an enormous amount of things we don’t look at. If you don’t do star- tups, you blot a lot of complexity out of your life. What we found out is that there are still a lot of things to look at and that are available, even if we filter out all those things.
WB: There are a lot of giveaways in the first sentence or two. We waste a lot of time, but we waste it on things we want to waste it on.
Source: BRK Annual Meeting 2008 Boodell Notes
Investing in Brazil?
Our problem with many markets is that we have to put out a lot of money because we’re so big. We have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars, which really narrows the companies and countries we can look at. In the case of PetroChina, the biggest company in the world’s most populous country, we were only able to invest $400 million.
In Brazil, there’s a great beer company a friend ran and we should have invested in it. He’s a great manager. Brazil wouldn’t be off limits, but we would have to be able to invest a lot of money in a good business we can understand at a good price. And it would have to be cheaper than a comparable U.S. company, to compensate for the extra risk and our relative lack of knowledge about the market.
Source: BRK Annual Meeting 2006 Tilson Notes
Investing in Russia?
In 1998, via our ownership in Salomon Brothers, we were in the oil business and drilled for oil in Siberia. They were happy to have us drill, but when it came time to take the oil out, it was harder. Given that experience, [we won’t be rushing back to invest in Russia].
About three years ago, I had breakfast in Sun Valley with Mikhail Khodorkovsky [the former CEO of Yukos], who was considering a listing on the New York Stock Exchange. He’s now in jail and Yukos is in bankruptcy with tax claims. It’s a little hard to develop a lot of confidence that [Russia] has changed vis-a-vis its views toward capital, especially outside investors and capital.
大约三年前，我跟Yukos的前任CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky吃了个早点，他说他想在美国证交所上市，但是他现在进去了，因他偷税漏税导致破产，对俄罗斯这个市场建立信心总是很难，因为他们在当面锣对面鼓检查资产问题的时候总会出现各种问题，尤其是涉及到海外投资的时候。
[CM: [This reminds me of a story that ends:] “If they ever do find any oil, that old man will steal it.” I’m afraid we have the same problem today in many countries with oil.]
Charlie, didn’t we have the livelihood of our guys threatened [in Russia]? We sent guys to get the [oil-drilling] equipment and they were told that not only would they not get the equipment, but if they tried, the guys wouldn’t get out either. It wasn’t that long ago.
Source: BRK Annual Meeting 2006 Tilson Notes