Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) may be one step closer to formally naming a successor for Warren Buffett as chief executive of the world’s top conglomerate. Buffett and the board of directors have now named Gregory Abel (55) and Ajit Jain (66) as vice chairman at Berkshire Hathaway. Abel will be vice chairman for noninsurance operations and Jain will serve as vice chairman for insurance operations. This takes the size of Berkshire’s board of directors up to 14 from 12. Buffett is 87, and Charlie Munger is 94.
While much of the news might be focused on the CEO succession, Buffett and Munger also provided some solid insights into the value of stocks, bonds, cryptocurrencies and other issues in a CNBC interview. There was even a view offered on General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE).
24/7 Wall St. has not listed all these views, but here are several key views and insights that investors can think about as 2018 gets off to a strong start.
1. Stocks Not in a Bubble
Stocks are not in a bubble. Buffett and Munger both feel stock valuations may be elevated, but using the rule of Treasury yields and interest rates versus stocks means stock valuations (19 times expected 2018 earnings for the S&P 500) are not expensive. If you use a 2% bond yield, Buffett reminds the market that this is effectively saying a bond trades at 50-times earnings. While they may be selling some stocks, Buffett said Berkshire Hathaway is a net buyer of stocks.
2. Tax Reform Benefits
Buffett said he would have picked a different tax plan, but he and Munger both confirmed that the lower corporate tax is a windfall for companies. Buffett also confirmed that the company would be a long-term winner on tax reform. Just on Tuesday, one analyst said it could add 12% to Berkshire Hathaway’s book value over time. Buffett also believes that the huge tax cut for companies is not baked into the stock market.
3. Bitcoin and Crypto
Buffett and Munger both feel this is a bubble, but there are caveats on the timing. Buffett’s take is that the short-term price may do whatever it is going to do, but ultimately it will end up badly. He said:
If I could buy a five-year put on every one of the cryptocurrencies, I’d be glad to do it but I would never short a dime’s worth.
4. Berkshire Succession Narrowed
Buffett would not say who would take over as CEO tomorrow, but he said the board would know what to do tomorrow if something happened to his ability to run Berkshire Hathaway. With Jain and Abel both named to vice chair roles, the current succession plan would now obviously be one or the other of these two men.
5. No Major Acquisitions on Deck (Today)
You never know when Buffett is going to announce the next “whale of a deal” in mergers and acquisitions, but he told CNBC that he has no major acquisitions in his sight. That being said, Buffett would still like to make more deals, and he has roughly $100 billion in cash and liquidity that could fund a deal.
6. General Electric’s Value
Buffett was asked if he thinks General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) is cheap. He would not commit to a price target, nor to buying GE, and said of course that it depends heavily on where other companies are valued at a given time. Still, Buffett did admit he’d want to be a GE stock buyer if the price was right. And GE shares were up 0.5% on a day when the S&P 500 and Dow were both in the red across the board.
7. A Venture Capital Bubble
Munger conveyed the same message that Buffett told CNBC, in that there is no equity bubble. That being said, he said there are always bubbles somewhere, and there is a bubble in the value of private equity at this time. Munger went on to say that there is too much money in venture capital at the moment, and he compared the current VC environment to the dot-com bubble in 2000. He even said you could have taken $50 billion in cash back then and burned it and you would have gotten the same result.
8. Health Obligations of CEOs
Anytime a new form of succession comes up, and when a CEO is in his 80s, there is at least some speculation that maybe something is wrong. Buffett told Becky Quick that he’s in perfect health considering his age and his life and that he plans to stay in place for some time. That being said, Buffett also communicated that he thinks it is important and the duty of any CEO to inform shareholders if there are health issues that would keep them from running the company properly.