Daniel Loeb thinks Warren Buffett needs to start walking his own talk. Apparently, other hedge fund managers think the same.
On Wednesday, at the SALT hedge fund conference in Las Vegas, Loeb took a few minutes during a talk about his own strategy to bash the world’s most famous, and widely admired, investor. This past weekend, over 40,000 people attended Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting to hear Buffett pontificate on the market Berkshire and why he has been so successful.
At SALT, Loeb, who runs the Third Point hedge fund, said that he enjoys reading Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway annual letters. But Loeb said Buffett doesn’t practice much of what he preaches. The critical comments of Buffett drew loud applause from the hedge fund industry crowd.
Loeb cited taxes, hedge funds, and activist investing as issues where there has been a major difference between what Buffett says and what he does. Loeb came short of calling Buffett a hypocrite outright, but that’s what he was certainly implicating.
“He [Buffett] criticizes hedge funds, but he used to run one,” Loeb said. “He criticizes activists, but he was the first activist. He says we should all pay more taxes, yet he avoids them himself.
“There’s a lot of wisdom in those letters, but I see a wide disconnect from the wisdom and how he actually behaves.”
Loeb’s Buffett diatribe may have been inspired by recent events related to Dow Chemical. Loeb, an activist investor, has been after the giant corporation to make changes, including spinning off a division. In January, Dow CEO Andrew Liveris said he had met with Buffett, who also owns shares of Dow. According to Liveris, Buffett had said he was glad that Liveris was “running the company for the investors who will stay versus the investors who will leave,” which was considered a shot at Loeb. Activist investors are often criticized for being focused on short-term gains and out for a quick buck.
Loeb’s Buffett comments created an awkward moment on stage. Anthony Scaramucci, whose fund-of-fund firm SkyBridge Investments runs the SALT investment conference and is a master networker, remarked that his chances of having Buffett at SALT next year were shot. “Warren Buffett, if you are listening, I’m sorry,” Scaramucci said.
Buffett has been facing increased criticism recently. At Berkshire’s annual shareholders meeting, Buffett was subjected to a number of pointed questions about Berkshire’s actions in the past year. A recent investigation by The Seattle Times and the Center for Public Integrity questioned the lending habits of a Berkshire unit that manufactures mobile homes.
Loeb’s ire was directed at more targets than just Buffett. He also criticized New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina of mismanagement. Loeb, who works with a non-profit that promotes charter schools, said that Farina has not even visited the schools he is involved with. “Can you imagine a CEO acting that way?” said Loeb.
Loeb also took credit for much of the corporate structural reform going on in Japan. (Yes, the entire nation.) He said the government has been very supportive of his efforts to reform companies like Sony and others.
Loeb also talked about the market, and he was asked to discuss his thoughts on China. He said he thought stocks would likely be higher in the next few years in the U.S. and in China. But even on that topic, he couldn’t avoid bashing someone, this time fellow hedge fund manager Jim Chanos. “I don’t know anyone who had gotten rich shorting China,” said Loeb, mentioning Chanos. “And I don’t expect that to happen.”
Chanos is scheduled to speak on Thursday at the SALT investment conference, which is taking place at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.