Warren Buffett on Saturday launched vigorous defenses of a private equity firm and a mobile home unit that critics say employ controversial business practices antithetical to Buffett’s own at Berkshire Hathaway.
In his widely-read annual letter to Berkshire shareholders, Buffett said he would do more deals with 3G Capital, a Brazilian firm with which Berkshire owns a majority of Kraft Heinz, but which, unlike Berkshire, is known as a ruthless cost-cutter.
Buffett also devoted more than 1,200 words in his roughly 18,000-word letter to defending Berkshire’s Clayton Homes unit, after articles in the Seattle Times accused the nation’s largest mobile home builder of predatory lending and exploiting black and Latino borrowers.
Berkshire (BRKA)reported a record full-year profit of $24.08 billion, up 21% from a year earlier, while operating profit rose 5% to a record $17.36 billion.
In the fourth quarter, profit rose 32% to $5.48 billion, or $3,333 per Class A share. Operating profit rose 18% to $4.67 billion, or $2,843 per share, topping the average analyst forecast of $2,814 according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Buffett, 85, has in nearly 51 years running Berkshire transformed it from a failing textile company into a conglomerate with roughly 90 businesses in such areas as insurance, railroads, energy, food, apparel, and real estate.
His work has also made him an investing legend and the world’s third-richest person, according to Forbes magazine.
But his tie-up with 3G, led by the Brazilian billionaire Jorge Paulo Lemann, has attracted criticism.
Last year, at Berkshire’s annual meeting in Omaha, many shareholders wanted to know if Berkshire’s business principles were compatible with 3G, which has made its name as an aggressive cost-cutter that appoints its own executives and eliminates thousands of jobs at the companies it acquires.
Berkshire and 3G in 2013 bought the former H.J. Heinz, and two years later merged it with the former Kraft Foods. Buffett has also helped finance 3G’s merger of Burger King with Canadian donut chain Tim Hortons.
In his letter, Buffett acknowledged that while he and 3G “follow different paths” toward buying and running businesses, 3G’s method has been “extraordinarily successful,” and that more deals are possible.
“Jorge Paulo and his associates could not be better partners,” Buffett wrote. “We share with them a passion to buy, build and hold large businesses that satisfy basic needs and desires.”
Buffett also praised Clayton, saying that it made home ownership possible for many even during the financial crisis, and that it has to be a careful lender because it keeps the mortgage loans it makes on its books.
Yet he said that in the last two years, regulators from the federal government and 25 U.S. states examined Clayton and its mortgages a total of 65 times, yet this scrutiny has led to just $38,200 of fines and $704,678 of refunds to customers.
Clayton’s management still delivers “industry-leading performance,” Buffett said.