In the last few days, some of the greatest minds in business journalism have scoured Warren Buffett’s annual letter to harvest wisdom.
The Berkshire Hathaway boss and billionaire investor praised the American economy, calling the country’s achievements “miraculous.”
- Warren Buffett on his reputation as the “Oracle of Omaha”
- Buffet on what he ‘gets’ about the economy, investing mistakes, and inflation
- HBO’s ‘Becoming Warren Buffett’ takes a look at the relationships that shaped the man
But Marketplace regular Allan Sloan, who’s also a Washington Post columnist, looked at Buffett’s big letter to shareholders the other day and noticed not what is there, but what isn’t. A couple of missing things: serious discussion about Berkshire’s two largest stock investments — Wells Fargo and Kraft Heinz.
Sloan joined host David Brancaccio to discuss how dissatisfaction among the working class may have led to the decision. Below is an edited transcript.
David Brancaccio: So, everyone loves caviling over the letter each year from Warren Buffett. It gives hints about his investments, hints about his philosophy and outlook. You looked at it. What’s missing?
Allan Sloan: Two things are missing. One was how wonderful the management of Wells Fargo was, which he wrote the previous year. The second thing is he lavished praise on this company called 3G, what’s known as a private equity company, from Brazil, which manages a company called Kraft Heinz, which is Berkshire Hathaway’s biggest investment. And what it does is it goes around, it buys companies — now with the help of a lot of financing from Berkshire Hathaway — it fires zillions of people, the profits go up, and then after a while, it goes out and buys another company and does the same thing.
Brancaccio: And a year ago Mr. Buffett was happy to mention the wonderful work of 3G, but these days things seem a little different.
Sloan: Yeah, again we’re reading motivation into him, and we don’t know. But I can take a guess as to why Buffett isn’t mentioning 3G’s brilliant management this year. I think it’s climate change.
Brancaccio: Climate change?
Sloan: Yeah, the social climate has changed.
Brancaccio: What, with the rise of Trumpism?
Sloan: Sure. And the sensitivity now to zillions of working-class Americans who feel angry and betrayed. Those are the very kinds of people that companies like 3G fire because they can save money by doing it.
Brancaccio: So in a sense, you’re saying in 2017, it’s no longer polite to mention companies that make money off of getting rid of people?
Sloan: That is my read of the annual Buffett letter, which may not be anyone else’s read.
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