Buffett is sticking with Kraft, but won’t buy more shares

Warren Buffett on 6 May 2017 at the annual meeting of his Berkshire Hathaway in Omaha, Nebraska. (AP)

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Warren Buffett isn’t giving up on Kraft Heinz after its
$15.4bn writedown last week, but don’t expect him to buy more of its shares.

“I have absolutely no intention of selling. I’ve got
absolutely no intention of buying,” Buffett said Monday in an interview
with CNBC. He won’t buy more of the packaged-food giant “because it isn’t
worth as much.”

Buffett played a crucial role in the formation of Kraft
Heinz, teaming up with 3G Capital to help create the merger of Kraft Foods and
H.J. Heinz in 2015. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway took a $2.7bn hit in the
fourth quarter from its Kraft Heinz stake.

“We overpaid for Kraft and we wrote down $15bn of that,”
Buffett said. “The business does not earn more just because you pay more
for it.”

Buffett said while he thinks Kraft Heinz is a “wonderful
business,” he sees better places to deploy more money than buying the
portion of the company he doesn’t already own. Berkshire is Kraft Heinz’s
largest shareholder, with a 27% stake, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Buffett said consumer brands’ “ability to price has
changed” as more retailers such as Costco offer their own private-label
goods, but doesn’t think his partners at 3G have under-invested in Kraft
Heinz’s brands. He praised Jorge Paulo Lemann, a 3G founding partner, on
Monday.

Here are some other topics Buffett touched on during the
interview:

Wealth Taxes

Buffett was asked about proposals from prominent Democrats,
including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,
who have advocated raising taxes on the rich.

“The wealthy are definitely under-taxed relative to the
general population,” Buffett said.

READ: Warren Buffett’s annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter

Oracle

Buffett quickly changed his mind on Oracle last year, buying
shares of the software company in the third quarter before selling just months
later. He drew on his time investing in IBM when he decided to reverse course
on Larry Ellison’s company.

“Oracle is a great business, but I don’t think,
particularly after my experience with IBM, I don’t think I understand exactly
where the cloud is going,” Buffett said Monday.

Dealmaking

Berkshire has struggled to find a massive, well-priced deal
in recent years, but got close last quarter. Buffett said he was looking at a
big deal late last year, which stopped him from buying more stocks as the
market plunged, rounding out the S&P 500 Index’s worst year since the financial
crisis. Berkshire spent only $39m in net equity purchases in the fourth
quarter.

“We had at least one deal possibly that would have been
very large,” Buffett said. “I liked stocks in the fourth quarter, but
I would like buying a business even better.”

The deal fell through and is no longer on the table, he
said.

Investing deputies

Buffett talked about the challenge of the investment
landscape these days. Even his investing deputies, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler,
have been having a rough time recently. The billionaire investor said both are
trailing the broader market, a change from last year when they were slightly
ahead of the S&P 500 in their Berkshire tenure.

“Overall, they are a tiny bit behind the S&P each
by just almost the same margin over the same time,” Buffett said Monday.

Still, Combs and Weschler, who manage about $13bn each, have
done an “incredible” amount of work in terms of acquisitions and
helping out on the Berkshire, Amazon.com and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
health-care venture. And the pair have outperformed the Oracle of Omaha himself
in recent years, he said.

“They’ve done better than I have,” Buffett said.

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Stock bets

Buffett clarified that the reduction of Berkshire’s Apple
Inc. holding in the fourth quarter was done by an investing deputy, who trimmed
the stake in order to have funds to buy shares of another company. He said
Monday that he would add more Apple shares if the stock were cheaper.

Berkshire spent last year piling further into financial
stocks, investments that Buffett called “very good” if they’re done
at sensible prices. Buffett praised Bank of America Chief Executive Officer
Brian Moynihan, calling him one of the “most underestimated” bank
executives in the US. Buffett also said he was dumb for not buying JPMorgan
shares earlier. Berkshire disclosed a stake in the bank last year.

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