Posts Tagged ‘Warren Buffett’

Bill Gates, Sr.: The Rich Must Pay More Taxes

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Bill Gates, Sr., a retired attorney in Washington state, supports a ballot initiative that would require the state’s highest earners — including himself and his son — to pay an income tax.  Currently, the state does not collect personal income taxes.

The father of billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Jr., believes that the poor pay too much tax, and that the rich don’t pay enough.  Washington’s school system, which is a catalyst for future economic growth in the high-tech state, suffers from too little funding because the wealthy aren’t paying their fair share, according to Gates.  His 1098 initiative — an income tax on adjusted earnings that exceed $400,000 a year per couple or $200,000 for an individual — is drawing protest from Washington business leaders, as well as anti-tax groups.

Initiative 1098 would give tax credits to approximately 80 percent of Washington-based businesses and slash the state share of property taxes by 20 percent for businesses and homeowners.  According to critics, the legislation would harm the economy by taxing the earnings of people who own the businesses — money that would be used to put people back to work.  The opposition’s Defeat 1098 campaign believes that an income tax on 38,400 of the state’s highest earners would take away vital competitive advantages and drive away entrepreneurs.  Even Governor Chris Gregoire’s Commerce Department has publicized Washington’s lack of an income tax in statements about the state’s business climate.

Gates considers Washington state’s tax system to be “dramatically regressive”, something that was proved in 2002 when he led a commission created by the Legislature to study the state tax system.  The commission recommended replacing the sales tax or property tax with an income tax that would rebalance the load.  Gates cited data gathered by the national Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy that show Washington’s poorest 20 percent pay 17 percent of their income in sales, property and other taxes.  By contrast, the wealthiest one percent pays less than four percent.

The initiative would impose a state income tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning upwards of $400,000.  In other words, single people would pay a five percent tax on income over $200,000 and nine percent tax if they earn more than $500,000.  Couples would pay five percent over $400,000 and nine percent if they earn a combined income that exceeds $1 million.

“It’s not a matter of picking on someone,” Gates said.  “It’s a matter of correcting to some extent a bad historic situation and arguing — I think absolutely persuasively — that this is a proper source for a serious financial shortfall in our operations, namely the public education system.”

Gates’ proposal also has met opposition from Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, and Jeff Bezos, President of Amazon.com, both of whom donated $100,000 to anti-tax groups.

Another voice of opposition is Stephen Moore, who wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “I wish I had a dollar for every time a wealthy liberal has declared he thinks he should pay more taxes. That list includes Warren Buffett, George Soros, Bill Gates Sr., Mark Zuckerberg and even Barack Obama, who now says that not only should rich people like him pay more taxes, they want to pay more.”

Gates is joined by Berkshire-Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett in calling for higher taxes on the wealthy.  President Obama supports “the Buffett Rule”, a guiding principle to ensure that the rich pay as large a percentage of their income as the middle class.  Some millionaires insist that Buffett doesn’t speak for them.  “There is more of a difference between my financial position as a multi-millionaire and Buffett’s than there is between mine and a guy that makes minimum wage,” one CNN Money reader said.  “Why am I grouped with him and why does he feel he can speak for me?”

Just 24 percent of millionaires said higher taxes on large incomes is the optimal solution, according to a survey from Spectrem Group, a research firm specializing in the finances of affluent Americans.  The largest group of millionaires, 44 percent, believe that a flat-rate tax across all income brackets is the fairest system.

Warren Buffet Bullish on U.S. Credit Rating

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Standard & Poor’s may have downgraded the United States credit rating from AAA to AA+ and the bears may have taken over Wall Street, but the Berkshire Hathaway chairman and billionaire Warren Buffett believes that the nation deserves a AAAA rating.

In a recent appearance on CNBC, Buffett said that he still believes that the United States’ debt is AAA and that he’s not changing his mind about Treasuries based on Standard & Poor’s downgrade.  “If anything, it may change my opinion on S&P,” according to the Oracle of Omaha.  “I wouldn’t dream of putting it anywhere else,” Buffett said, noting that at Berkshire, the only reason he’s sold Treasuries in the past is to purchase stocks or make acquisitions.  Berkshire is still buying T-bills, even though yields have declined.  “If I have to buy (Treasuries) at a zero percent yield, I will,” he said.  “I don’t like it, but we’ll do it.”

Buffett has something of a vested interest in criticizing Standard & Poor’s.  Berkshire Hathaway is one of the biggest shareholders in Standard & Poor’s main competitor Moody’s with about 28 million shares. But the billionaire has long urged people to make their own decisions about an investment’s prospects without relying on credit rating agencies.  Buffett said the action doesn’t change his view on the soundness of U.S. Treasury bills.  At least $40 billion of Berkshire Hathaway’s approximately $48 billion cash and equivalents is in U.S. Treasury bills, and Buffett won’t consider investing it elsewhere.

According to Buffett, America’s leaders may have a difficult time agreeing on the country’s financial future and the value of the dollar may slide, but that won’t keep the world’s richest nation from paying its debts.  The United States has a GDP of about $48,000 per person, and the Federal Reserve can always print more money.  “Our currency is not AAA, and in recent months the performance of our government has not been AAA, but our debt is AAA,” Buffett said.

Writing on the InvestorPlace.com website, Jeff Reeves says that “Before you scoff that Buffett is just a bygone relic of an era during which stocks like General Electric truly did have bulletproof dividends and it would have been unfathomable for stocks like General Motors to go bankrupt, consider this: In September 2008, the depths of the financial crisis when nobody knew which bank would fail next, Buffett and Berkshire dumped $5 billion into preferred stock of Goldman Sachs.  Thanks to the 10 percent interest on those shares, Berkshire Hathaway earned a cool $500 million per year in dividends before Goldman bought back the stock several months ago.  What’s more, the investment bank paid a hefty 10 percent premium to buy back those preferred shares.  Maybe it was crazy to jump into banks headfirst when the market was going haywire in 2008.  But it was awfully profitable for Buffett.  You might think it’s crazy to stick to your buy-and-hold strategy now, or to continue to rely on U.S. Treasury Bonds.  But take a deep breath and remember that not everyone is screaming and running for the hills.  Yes, persistent problems with unemployment, the political bickering in Congress and the flatlining of our American economy are serious issues.  But they are hardly new.”

Not everyone agrees with Buffett.  According to the Equity Master website, “We must say that we do not agree with Mr. Buffett.  We are not arguing with the credibility of S&P, whose reputation admittedly became tainted when it gave the highest rating to many mortgaged backed securities in the months leading up to the demise of Lehman.  But that does not mean that the U.S. is without some serious problems.  Indeed, the U.S.’ mounting debt is a huge cause for concern and the government’s latest move to raise the debt ceiling is only likely to postpone an eventual default and not entirely extinguish it.  Moreover, the claim that the U.S. can pay its debt because it can print more money is a dangerous one to make.  Printing money never really solved America’s problems.  The two big quantitative easing programs and their failure to revive the sagging U.S. economy is testimonial to the fact.  One thing that it will certainly do is bring down the value of the dollar and cause inflation to accelerate posing a fresh set of problems for the U.S.  So, while criticisms can be piled on S&P, downgrading of the U.S.’ credit rating is something that the world’s largest economy had a long time coming.”

Firstpost agrees that Buffett is wrong.  “Among other things, he said that the U.S. deserved a AAA credit rating when the S&P decided to bring it down to AA+. He also believes the U.S. will avert a double-dip recession.  Well, Mr. Buffett, you are already half-wrong. A slow-growing nation with a 100 percent debt-to-GDP ratio cannot be AAA by any stretch of economic logic.  It makes India’s 70-72 percent debt-GDP ratio look like the epitome of prudence.  As for the other half of your prediction – that the U.S. will avoid a double-dip recession – the jury is out on that one, but the recession wasn’t the reason for the S&P downgrade anyway.  There are two reasons, or maybe three, why the U.S. is in a mess.  One is that it is overleveraged – in deep debt – both at the level of government and the common people.  Two, the law that the U.S. can indefinitely live beyond its means has a flaw.  It was built on the assumption that dollar debts can be paid off by printing more of the green stuff forever.”

Warren Buffett Chooses His Likely Successor

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Warren Buffett taps hedge fund manager Todd Combs to take over Berkshire Hathaway.  At age 75, mega-billionaire and Chairman of Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., Warren Biffett has likely selected the person who will succeed him when he eventually retires.  The chosen one – who will head a holding company that owns such diverse businesses as Geico and Dairy Queen — is said to be 39-year-old Todd Combs, currently a hedge fund manager with Castle Point Capital in Greenwich, CT.

According to Carol Loomis, a writer for Fortune magazine and a friend of Buffett, “The word ‘investment’ is key to that last sentence.  As chairman of Berkshire, Buffett has two jobs: He runs the business as CEO, and he manages Berkshire’s huge investments in securities.  It is the investment job for which Combs is the leading contender.  Buffett’s hiring of Combs at least partially satisfies a commitment Buffett made to Berkshire’s shareholders more than three years ago in his 2007 annual letter.  Buffett said were he to die ‘tonight,’ the company would have three outstanding candidates for the CEO half of his job.  On the investment side, however, he conceded that good candidates were not lined up in the wings.”

Berkshire Hathaway recently said its net worth grew by $5.6 billion in 2005, a 6.4 percent rise in book value. That compares with a 4.9 percent growth projection in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, marking the first year since 2002 that Berkshire beat the S&P.  Since 1965, Berkshire’ average yearly gain has been 21.5 percent, more than twice that of the S&P.

In his letter to shareholders, Buffett wryly noted that death wasn’t the only circumstance in which he would have to be replaced.  He said he is relying on his board to show him the door if his cognitive abilities ebb as he ages, “particularly if this decay is accompanied by my delusionally thinking that I am reaching new peaks of managerial brilliance.”

The Giving Pledge Encourages Billionaires to Share Their Wealth

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

The Giving Pledge asks billionaires to donate 50 percent of their wealth to charity.  Two of the nation’s leading billionaire philanthropists are joining forces to encourage others to donate as much as half of their wealth to charities.  Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett are teaming to create the Giving Pledge, “an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death.”

According to Patty Stonesifer, who is advising Gates and Buffett on the Giving Pledge, four additional families – real estate and construction’s Eli Broad, venture capitalist John Doerr, media entrepreneur Gerry Lenfest and former Cisco Systems chairman John Morgridge – are already on board.  Buffett, who has already pledged to donate 99 percent of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said “At the latest, the proceeds from all of my Berkshire shares will be expended for philanthropic purposes by 10 years after my estate is settled.  Nothing will go to endowments.  I want the money spent on current needs,” according to Buffett.  Forbes magazine ranks Gates as the world’s second richest man with $53 billion and Buffett as third with $47 billion.  The United States is home to 403 billionaires.

The Giving Pledge is not accepting money itself.  Rather, it is asking billionaires to commit to giving their money to charity.  Although the campaign specifically targets billionaires, the Giving Pledge is “inspired by the example set by millions of Americans who give generously (and often at great personal sacrifice) to make the world a better place.”

President Obama, Warren Buffett Two Apples on the Same Family Tree

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Ancestry.com accidentally discovers that President Obama and Warren Buffett are distant cousins.  Politics may make strange bedfellows, but it also reveals some interesting family trees.

President Barack Obama not only has a supporter in the form of Berkshire Hathaway chairman and investment expert Warren Buffett – the two are also distant cousins. Genealogists at ancestry.com found a family connection dating back to a 17th-century Frenchman named Mareen Duvall who emigrated to Maryland in the 1650s.

The accidental discovery places Duvall as Obama’s 9th great-grandfather through his mother and Buffett’s 6th great-grandfather through his father.  According to Anastasia Tyler, the project’s lead researcher, “We recognized the name Duvall and it made us wonder if this was a connection.  We’re always looking for a way to show how interesting family history is.  Like this, when you start finding similarities in family trees.  The tree leads you in directions you don’t expect.”

Duvall arrived in America as an indentured servant, but by 1659 had purchased property in Maryland, became a planter and merchant and was perceived as a “country gentleman”.  Tyler noted that “It’s quite an achievement.  You can see similarities to him in both (Obama’s and Buffett’s) lives.”

Buffett isn’t the president’s only high-profile relative.  During the 2008 presidential campaign, researchers found that Obama is a distant cousin of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Don’t Want to Buy Distressed Assets? Then Try Insuring Them

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has started selling insurance coverage on foreclosed homes occupied by distressed borrowers with the goal of making money from banks hurt by the mortgage market collapse.  These policies are riskier than usual home coverage because the properties may be neglected or vandalized.

“It’s part of the standard practice of Berkshire, which is to respond opportunistically,” said Tom Russo, a partner at Gardner Russo & Gardner, which owns shares in Berkshire.  “They have the capital to act and the credibility.”

mp_main_wide_warrenbuffett2Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway has $24.5 billion in cash, cut back on coverage of large commercial properties against catastrophes like hurricanes when the recession started and demand fell.  The home insurance venture positions Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway to benefit from the supply of foreclosed properties that has grown fourfold in three years.  Because Buffett came through the subprime crisis in good shape, he has been able to increase his holdings in companies hurt by the recession in markets where demand is growing.

Berkshire Hathaway’s expansion in the area of foreclosed and distressed property insurance is noteworthy.  What’s key is that they have been able to come up with some level of asset valuation (i.e., home price or home replacement cost) in order to be comfortable pricing such insurance.  This is a good signal which would indicate that, at minimum, smart money is comfortable with home valuations at some level, and is willing to underwrite to those values.

S. Jafer Hasnain is a Managing Partner of Lifeline Assets, a Chicago-based real-estate private equity firm which he co-founded in 2008. Mr. Hasnain was previously a portfolio manager and analyst at AllianceBernstein for 14 years with stints at Merrill Lynch, Citibank and Goldman Sachs prior to that.

There’s Method in Warren Buffett’s Madness

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Warren Buffett’s loyal followers are wondering what got into the Oracle of Omaha6a00d834a6138369e200e54f0aa7a68833-500wi when he told CNBC  that this is “a great time to be in banking“, praised Wells Fargo’s massive earning power, and said that the government doesn’t need to provide capital to or nationalize banks.

Although some critics dismissed Buffett’s statements as biased because he owns large stakes in Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp, he may be dead right.

Buffett was talking about lending, and it’s the “spread” that counts – the difference between the interest rates banks charge for the loans they make and the rate they pay to borrow that money.  When the Federal Reserve makes deep interest rate cuts, spreads widen and loans become more profitable.  The Fed funds rate is so low right now that Wells Fargo is borrowing cheaply and profiting handsomely on the loans it makes.

Although banks do need to recapitalize, they currently are saving money by cutting dividends paid to investors.  Every dollar they make goes into recapitalization.  With stricter government oversight, banks are required to operate more efficiently.  The irony is that these conditions are almost identical to what helped the nation recover from its last banking crisis during the 1990 – 1991 recession.  In fact, the banks 19 years ago were in worse shape than they are today; yet they were not nationalized or put into receivership.  Once the Fed cut interest rates, banks’ lending policies became more conservative, and they eventually recovered.  The same scenario could play out this time around.