A few days after Apple staged an elaborate event to unveil its plans for streaming-TV and news subscription services, Warren Buffett offered less than a rousing endorsement for the device manufacturer’s plans to build out its revenue stream through such offerings.
Buffett said the market for streaming-video subscriptions, in which Apple is going up against entertainment giants like Disney and Netflix, is “not an easy game to predict, because you have very smart people with lots of resources trying to figure out how to grab another half hour of your time. I wouldn’t want to play in that game myself.”
When the interviewer, CNBC’s Becky Quick, pointed out that Berkshire Hathaway’s investment in Apple, currently worth about $47 billion, means Berkshire is in fact playing in that market, Buffett indicated a patience toward Apple’s move into a market that ultimately may not pan out.
“Apple—I’d love to see them succeed. That’s a company that can afford a mistake or two. You don’t want to buy stock in a company that has to do everything right,” Buffett said. “You’re going to make mistakes but you don’t want to make them with too big a portion of your capital… Apple should do some things that don’t work.”
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owned 250 million shares of Apple at the end of 2018, or about 5.7% stake in the Silicon Valley giant. The company sold off about 3 million shares of Apple last quarter, as it and other big name tech stocks tumbled. Buffett’s net worth is estimated at around $83 billion, according to Forbes.
Buffett also expressed a reluctance to jump into the IPO market at a time when big-name tech companies like Lyft, Uber and Pinterest are preparing to go public. While acknowledging he missed out on buying tech giants like Amazon when they went public, Buffett thinks the risks are too great, not just for Berkshire but for the average investor as well. The last time his firm bought shares in an IPO was in 1955.
“Buying new offerings during hot periods in the market isn’t anything the average person should think about at all,” Buffett said. “You can go around and make dumb bets and still win. It’s not something you want to take as a lifetime model. You just want to make sure you’re on the side of the house when you bet, rather than bet against the house.”
Throughout the interview, Buffett answered questions with a humble, plainspoken sense of humor. When Quick asked if he planned to watch Apple programs on his iPad, Buffett pulled out a flip phone, the likes of which were popular more than a decade ago.
“Alexander Graham Bell lent it to me and I forgot to return it,” joked the 88-year-old Buffett.