Highly successful investor Warren Buffett isn't as predictable as you might imagine. Sure, Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio is stocked with big-name brands you'd probably expect — Coca-Cola, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson and more — but that doesn’t mean Buffett is incapable of surprising us.
GOBankingRates dug up 10 companies you’d never think Buffett would love — from Coke’s biggest competitor to a professional football team. Click through to uncover some surprising facts about Buffett's views on these companies and discover the wisdom of the Oracle of Omaha.
The San Francisco-based platform, which connects travelers across the globe with spare rooms and houses for rent, doesn’t exactly have Buffett written all over it. For one, it’s a tech company — and not the pedigreed, IBM-type of tech company Buffett trusts, but a 2008 startup that grew quickly.
Even so, Buffett gave the site a glowing endorsement in a 2015 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, recommending it to anyone visiting Omaha for the annual shareholders meeting.
“Airbnb's services may be especially helpful to shareholders who expect to spend only a single night in Omaha and are aware that last year a few hotels required guests to pay for a minimum of three nights. Those people on a tight budget should check the Airbnb website,” Buffett wrote.
Shortly thereafter, Buffett’s own childhood home went up on Airbnb. The site sponsored a contest letting one lucky shareholder win a three-night stay in the house where Buffett “launched his trailblazing (money-making) career.”
2. Devlet Louis Motorradvertriebs
Imagine Buffett clad in leather chaps and a biker jacket, the wind whipping through his tufts of hair. It's somewhat of an incongruous picture, no?
Nonetheless, Berkshire Hathaway acquired Devlet Louis Motorradvertriebs, a German motorcycle gear company, in February 2015 for a reported $453 million.
As far as Berkshire Hathaway holdings go, Louis is a fairly boutique company — more than 80 stores throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland, according to its website. Buffett saw the acquisition as a gateway to more European deals, saying, “I like the fact that we have cracked the code in Germany."
3. Standard and Poor’s
Here’s an interesting Buffett contradiction: If you asked the Oracle of Omaha where you should put your long-term savings, he probably would steer you away from his own holding company.
In one of his letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Buffett offered his No. 1 investing tip: Put your money in the S&P 500. It might seem like a slow-growth, rather boring approach, but Buffett said it will offer an almost guaranteed solid return long-term — and it’s where he’s invested his wife’s bequest.
“My advice to the trustee could not be more simple: Put 10 percent of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90 percent in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s.)” Buffett wrote. “I believe the trust’s long-term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors — whether pension funds, institutions or individuals — who employ high-fee managers.”
So, rather than trying to pick Warren Buffett stocks, simply rely on an index fund to get rich like Buffett.
Buffett’s allegiance to Coke — and his never-ending consumption of it — is as crucial to the investor’s mythology as Omaha and Benjamin Graham. “I’m one-quarter Coca-Cola,” he told Fortune in a February 2015 interview, in which he divulged he drinks at least five Cokes a day. Buffett also owns about 9 percent of Coca-Cola.
But it was the other brown drink that made Buffett a tidy and quick profit when Pepsi ran its Billion Dollar Sweepstakes back in 2003. The details of this contest sound like something out of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”; in a two-hour, live broadcast on the WB Network (remember that?), 1,000 contestants were whittled down to 10, with one given a 1-in-1,000 chance of winning $1 billion. (And a monkey would pick the winning number.)
The problem was Pepsi didn’t have $1 billion to lose. But Buffett did. Given the minuscule odds of someone taking home the billion, Berkshire Hathaway insured the company for an easy $10 million profit.
5. The Omaha World Herald
Buffett has a longstanding love of print journalism and has continued to buy up flailing newspapers. Buffett’s most famous newspaper stake was probably in The Washington Post — he invested in the early 1970s and helped shepherd the paper through the next couple of decades alongside publisher Katharine Graham.
In 2011, Buffett bought his hometown paper, the Omaha World-Herald, which was viewed by many as a largely sentimental move. Just two years earlier, he decried the “nearly unending losses” many newspapers face.
For all the guff he gets about his alleged aversion to technology, there are a surprising number of tech stocks in Warren Buffett's portfolio, including telecommunications giant Verizon.
Buffett first invested in the company at a seemingly inauspicious time. It was late March 2014, less than a year after Verizon had sold off $49 billion of bonds in a corporate debt offering that roughly equaled all outstanding obligations in the Slovak Republic, according to Bloomberg. It was the largest corporate debt move to date in the U.S., and Verizon used it to help buy out partner Vodafone’s stake in Verizon Wireless.
In reality, this move positioned Verizon to increase its earnings by about 16 percent, according to calculations by The Motley Fool. Previous to the buyout, most of Verizon Wireless’ earnings were going to Vodafone. In true Buffett style, the Oracle of Omaha was able to see past the company’s significant baggage to its real future earning potential. And he was committed to waiting.
7. Mike Tyson
He’s not necessarily a company, but he certainly was a commodity that paid dividends for Buffett in the '90s.
According to Berkshire Hathaway’s 1995 letter to shareholders, the holding company insured Tyson for “a sum that is large initially and that, fight-by-fight, gradually declines to zero over the next few years.”
Much like Buffett’s fairly safe Pepsi sweepstakes gambit, it paid off easily. “If Mike Tyson looked any healthier, no one would get in the ring with him,” Buffett wrote.
This wasn’t the only odd insurance item in the 1995 letter; Buffett revealed Berkshire also insured the launch and a year of orbit for two Chinese satellites, as well as Lloyd’s, a U.K. insurer that was worried about too many of its “names” dying in one year. Success on all fronts, per Buffett: “Happily, both satellites are orbiting, the Lloyd’s folk avoided abnormal mortality.”
8. 21st Century Fox
Want to learn to be successful? Then, you'll need to put personal disagreements aside when you see the opportunity to make a great deal.
Buffett bought 4.7 million shares of the 21st Century Fox at the end of 2014, giving him a $161 million stake in the media conglomerate. It’s interesting that Buffett took a shine to a company helmed by Rupert Murdoch, whose politics sit across the aisle from Buffett’s.
The two have something of a difficult past. The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal ran an editorial in 2011 titled “Mr. Buffett’s Tax Secrets,” arguing “the least he can do is show Americans why he pays so little.”
Buffett gave a response on CNBC: “Well, I think it might be a terrific idea if they would ask their boss, Rupert Murdoch, and he and I will meet at Fortune, and we’ll both give you our tax returns, and you can publish them. … I’m ready tomorrow morning.”
It didn't happen — but now they might be able to write off a business lunch together.
9. 3G Capital
At Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting in May 2015, the first question from the audience concerned Buffett’s relationship with 3G Capital, a firm famous for buying out other companies, inserting its own people as executives at these companies and slashing jobs.
A partnership between 3G and Buffett — which has helped spur many deals for Berkshire Hathaway, including the 2013 acquisition of Heinz — doesn’t seem to quite jibe with the Oracle’s grandfatherly benevolence. (After all, how could someone who buys print newspapers and keeps on the editorial staff stomach the shelving of thousands of jobs elsewhere?)
But Buffett defended 3G at the conference, saying, “Efficiency is required over time in capitalism. I really tip my hat to what the 3G people have done.”
10. The Washington Redskins
Buffett seems to like staying involved with sports. In 2016, he teamed up with Quicken Loans to offer $1 billion to anyone who could come up with a perfect March Madness bracket. Nobody won, of course, as the odds were 1 in 9.2 quintillion.
Buffett has also expressed interest in football — specifically the Washington Redskins.
“You know, when I was a kid, I thought if I ever made a lot of money, I would go out and buy a team,” Buffett said on the Dan Patrick Show in 2014. “I was a water boy for the Washington Redskins for two games — I lived in Washington at the time — and I thought if I ever had a lot of money I'd buy the Washington Redskins."
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