Warren Buffett is anxious about doing business in Taiwan, saying he would ‘feel better’ about dealings in Japan

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet has adjusted his investing gameplan for East Asia after divesting himself from a considerable stake in TSMC, Taiwan’s leading chip manufacturer. The tense geopolitical situation surrounding the island has pushed foreign investors to reconsider their exposure, but the Oracle of Omaha has already picked out the most suitable alternative in the region as he hunts for his next big investment.

“I feel better about the capital that we’ve got deployed in Japan than in Taiwan,” Buffett said at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting on Saturday. “I wish it weren’t so but I think that is the reality and I’ve reevaluated that in the light of certain things that have been going on.”

Buffett dumped most of his company’s $4.1 billion stake in TSMC last year only months after acquiring it, and the legendary investor signaled that the mounting threat of war was “a consideration” behind that call in an interview last month with Japanese news outlet Nikkei

Tensions over the island country that China considers a breakaway state have risen in recent months, after a series of diplomatic visits between the U.S. and Taiwan, as well as President Joe Biden’s declarations that the U.S. would come to the island’s aid in the event of a military invasion. The nervous climate has been punctuated by more frequent incursions of Chinese aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense zone.

The geopolitical threat has had a knock-on effect for the world’s economic security because of Taiwan’s vital role in the global semiconductor industry, as the island is responsible for around 90% of the world’s most advanced computer chips, according to a 2021 industry report by Boston Consulting Group. The bulk of that comes down to TSMC, which alone accounts for 55% of the global chip manufacturing market.

Buffett insisted during his shareholder meeting that TSMC remains “marvelous” and among the “best well-managed companies” in the world, but suggested that the geopolitical concerns are starting to become an insurmountable barrier to doing business in the country: “I don’t like its location,” he said on Saturday.

Japan, meanwhile, might represent a safer and potentially lucrative investment target for Buffett. The billionaire investor made his second-ever trip to Japan in April to explore new business opportunities in the country, during which revealed to have increased his investments in several of Japan’s top trading firms. Investors called the foray a “stamp of approval” for more money to keep flowing into Japan on the promise the country can guarantee strong returns.

During his trip last month, Buffett spoke individually with all of Japan’s trading houses—large Japanese investment firms known locally as sogo shosha that hold large and diverse international portfolios—reportedly inviting executives to discuss strengthening relationships in his hotel room suite over glasses of Coca-Cola. Bosses at Berkshire Hathaway reiterated during the shareholder meeting over the weekend that one of the trip’s goals was to increase mutual understanding between U.S. investors and Japan ahead of more business deals in the near future.

“Warren, when you went over there, it was to build the trust with these Japanese companies because we do hope there’s long-term opportunities, but fundamentally, as you highlighted, they’re an incredible, they’ve been a very good investment,” Greg Abel, Berkshire Hathaway’s vice-chairman for noninsurance operations and Buffett’s designated likely successor as the company’s next CEO, said during the meeting.

In part because of Japan’s extremely low interest rates compared to the U.S., Buffett is far from the only major U.S. investor to start looking into setting up shop in the country. Lazard Asset Management, a New York-based firm with nearly $200 billion under management worldwide, wrote in an April report that Japan’s economy is “the healthiest it has been in the past 40 years,” adding that the Japanese Yen’s “significant weakening” over the last decade has put Japan into its “most cost-competitive position” to attract investment since the 1970s.

Ken Griffin’s $54 billion hedge fund firm Citadel is reportedly looking to reopen its Tokyo office sometime this year after shuttering it over a decade ago due to the financial crisis, the Financial Times wrote in March, while last month billionaire investor and New York Mets owner Steve Cohen announced his hedge fund Point72 was looking to grow its Japanese staff by 20%, with a goal of creating the “next generation of investors” in the country.

In January, activist fund Elliott Management became a top shareholder in Dai Nippon Printing, a 146-year old Japanese technology giant, after spending months quietly increasing its investment. The company’s stock has since surged 44% year-to-date, and in March announced the largest share buyback in its history worth 300 billion Japanese Yen, over $2 billion, a decision Elliott commended in a statement, saying it demonstrated Dai Nippon Printing’s “commitment to addressing the Company’s undervaluation.”

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