The 2017 meeting, which took place in Omaha Saturday, covered topics as diverse as Google and Amazon stock, Wells Fargo, artificial intelligence, the Republican health care bill, and whether Berkshire Hathaway stock will ever pay a dividend.
But what is most remarkable about the annual meeting is the way Buffett, 86, and Munger, 93, distill their responses to complex, technical questions into eloquent and pithy nuggets of wisdom that even novice investors can understand.
To that end, we’ve compiled the best Buffett quotes on the hottest topics from the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting 2017. After all, they don’t call Buffett the Oracle of Omaha for nothing.
On Wells Fargo’s Fake Accounts Scandal
“At Wells Fargo (WFC) there were three very significant mistakes, but there was one that was worse than all the others … The main problem was that they didn’t act when they learned about it … at some point if there’s a major problem, the CEO will get wind of it. And at that moment, that’s the key to everything, because the CEO has to act. It was a huge, huge, huge error if they were getting, and I’m sure they were getting, some communications and they ignored them or they just sent them back down to somebody down below.”
On Artificial Intelligence and Self-Driving Cars
“I would say that driverless trucks are a lot more of a threat than an opportunity to the Burlington Northern. And I would say that if driverless trucks became pervasive, it would only be because they are safer, and that would mean that the overall economic cost of auto-related losses had gone down, and that would drive down the premium income of Geico. So I would say both of those: Autonomous vehicles widespread would hurt us, if they spread to trucks, and they would hurt our auto insurance business.”
On Coca-Cola and Dieting
“I would say I’ve been eating things I like to eat all my life. And Coca-Cola (KO), this Coca-Cola 12 ounces, I drink about five a day. It has about 1.2 ounces of sugar in it. And if you look at what different people get their sugar and calories from, they get them from all kinds of things. I happen to believe I like to get my calories from this, I enjoy it … If you told me that I would live one year longer—and I don’t think I would—if I’d live one year longer if I ate only broccoli or asparagus or whatever, or if I eat what I like including Coca-Colas and steak and hash browns, I’d rather eat what I like and enjoy eating what I like than eat something I don’t and live another year.
“And I do think that choice should be mine. Maybe sugar is harmful and maybe you’d encourage the government to ban sugar … But I think Coca-Cola has been a very positive factor in the country and the world. And I really don’t want anyone telling me I can’t drink it. I think there’s something in longevity of feeling happy about your life.”
On IBM and Apple
“When I bought IBM (IBM) six years ago, I thought it would do better in the six years that have elapsed than it has. In terms of IBM and Apple (AAPL), I regard them as being quite different businesses … I was wrong on the first one, and we’ll find out whether I’m right or wrong on the second. But I don’t regard them as apples and apples, and I don’t quite regard them as apples and oranges. It’s somewhere in between on that.”
On the Republican Health Care Bill and Taxes
“Medical costs are the tapeworm of economic competitiveness. But the tax system is not crippling Berkshire’s competitiveness around the world or anything of the sort. Our health costs have gone up incredibly and will go up a lot more … And that is a problem that society is having trouble with and is going to have more trouble with, regardless of which party is in power, or anything of the sort.
“In terms of the new act which was passed a couple days ago, vs. the Obama administration [Affordable Care] act, it’s a very interesting thing. All I can tell you is the net effect of that act on one person is that my taxes, my federal income taxes, would have gone down 17% last year if what was proposed went into effect. So it is a huge tax cut for guys like me.”
On Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos
“He has been the CEO almost simultaneously of two businesses starting from scratch. Andy Grove at Intel (INTC) used to say if you had a silver bullet and you could shoot it and get rid of one of your competitors who would it be? I think that both in the cloud and in retail, there are a lot of people who would aim the silver bullet at Jeff … And we missed it entirely. We never owned a share of Amazon (AMZN) … I was too dumb to realize what was going to happen. I admired Jeff, but I did not think he’d succeed on the scale that he has, and I didn’t even think of the possibility that he’d do the things with the cloud services. I never even considered buying Amazon.
“If you asked me if while he was building up the retail operation he’d also be doing something that would disrupt the tech industry, that would have been a long shot for me. I really underestimated the brilliance of the execution. It’s one thing to dream about, it’s another thing to do it … [Amazon stock] always looked expensive, and I really never thought he would do what he did today. I thought he was really brilliant, but I didn’t think he’d be where he is today when I looked at it three, five, eight years ago anyway.”
On United Airlines and the Industry
“We actually are the largest holder of the four largest airlines, and that is much more of an industry call … We did not buy American Express or United Airlines or Coca-Cola with the idea they would never have problems or never have competition … And you’ve named a number of factors that just make for a terrible economics. It’s a fiercely competitive industry, the question is whether it’s a suicidally competitive industry, which it used to be. I mean, when you get virtually every one of the major carriers and dozens and dozens and dozens of minor carriers going bankrupt, there ought to come a point you find that maybe you’re in the wrong industry … I think it’s fair to say they will operate at higher degrees of capacity over the next five or 10 years than the historical rates which caused all of them to go broke. Whether they will do suicidal things in terms of pricing remains to be seen … It is no cinch that the industry will have some more pricing sensibility in the next 10 years than they had in the last 100 years, but the conditions have improved for that … But it’s not like buying See’s Candies.
I like the position. Obviously by buying all four it means it’s very hard to distinguish who will do the best … There will be low-cost people who come in, the Spirits of the world and JetBlues, whatever it may be, but my guess is that all four of the companies we have will have higher revenues. The question is what their operating ratio is—they will have fewer shares outstanding by a significant margin. So even if they’re worth what they’re worth today, we could make a fair amount of money. But it is no cinch, by a long shot.”
On the Future of Berkshire Hathaway
“If I died tonight, I think the stock would go up tomorrow.”
On Layoffs and Partnering with 3G on Kraft Heinz
“We don’t enjoy the process at all of getting more productive. Because it’s unpleasant … It’s just not as much fun to be in a business that cuts job as one that adds jobs. So Charlie and I would avoid personally having Berkshire buy businesses where the main benefits are actually having fewer workers.
“But I think it’s pro-social to think in terms of improving productivity, and I think the people at 3G do a very good job of that … When Kraft Heinz (KHC) finds whatever amount of business they can do, and they can do it with fewer people, they’re doing what American businesses have done for a couple hundred years and why we live so well. But they do it very fast. They don’t want to have two people doing the job that one could do. I frankly don’t like going through that … But change is painful. I think it’s absolutely essential to America that we become more productive because that is the only way you have more consumption per capita, more productivity per capita.”
Charlie Munger: “I don’t see anything wrong with increasing productivity. On the other hand, there’s a lot of counterproductive publicity to doing it. Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you should always do it … It’s terribly unpleasant for the people that have to go through it. And why would we want to get into the business of doing that over and over ourselves? We did it in the past where we had to. I don’t see any moral fault in 3G at all, but I do see there is some political reaction that doesn’t do anybody any good.”