Buffett: Wall Street has Turned into a “Casino Game”

Interesting comments from Warren Buffett on the current state of Wall Street (via DealBook).  Here are some key quotes:

“You can’t buy 10 percent of the farmland in Nebraska in three years if you set out to do it,” he said. Yet, he pointed out, he was able to buy the equivalent of 10 percent of I.B.M. in six to eight months as a result of the market’s liquidity. “The idea that people look at their holdings in such a way that that kind of volume exists means that to a great extent, it’s a casino game,” he said. Of course, unlike many investors, he plans to hold his stake in I.B.M. for years.

As we talked about the “good old days” — he spoke of some of his early friends who were successful hedge fund investors, like Julian Robertson, who founded Tiger Management — it became clear that he was less enamored of the investor class of the next generation.

When I asked, for example, if there were any private equity investors that he admired, he flatly replied: “No.”

When I asked if he followed any hedge fund managers, he struggled to name any, before saying that he liked Seth Klarman, a low-key value investor who runs the Baupost Group, based in Boston.

“They’re not as good as the old ones generally. The field has gotten swamped, so there’s so much money playing and people have been able to raise money by just saying ‘hedge fund,’” he said. “That was not the case earlier on; you really had to have some performance for some time before people would put money with you. It’s a marketing thing.”

Mr. Buffett says he now considered himself as much a business manager as an investor. “The main thing I’m doing is trying to build a business, and now we built one. Investing is part of it but it is not the main thing.”

Today, Mr. Buffett is particularly circumspect about the investment strategies that hedge funds employ, like shorting, or betting against, a company’s stock. He used to short companies as part of a hedging strategy when he ran his partnership, but now he says that he and Charlie Munger, his longtime friend and vice chairman of Berkshire, see it as too hard.

“Charlie and I both have talked about it, we probably had a hundred ideas of things that would be good short sales. Probably 95 percent of them at least turned out to be, and I don’t think we would have made a dime out of it if we had been engaged in the activity. It’s too difficult,” he explained, suggesting that the timing of short investments is crucial. “The whole thing about ‘longs’ is, if you know you’re right, you can just keep buying, and the lower it goes, the better you like it, and you can’t do that with shorts.”

Read the full article here.  There are some good insights there.

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Cullen Roche

Cullen Roche

Mr. Roche is the Founder of Orcam Financial Group, LLC. Orcam is a financial services firm offering research, private advisory, institutional consulting and educational services.

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