Warren Buffett may be one of the few Americans who can still afford to come to Europe for a shopping spree. Undaunted by the sharp decline...
FRANKFURT, Germany — Warren Buffett may be one of the few Americans who can still afford to come to Europe for a shopping spree.
Undaunted by the sharp decline of the dollar against the euro, the billionaire investor arrived here Monday to begin a four-country tour of Europe, with a view toward buying family-owned companies.
“I would rather be doing this with the euro at 90 cents than at $1.50,” Buffett said at a crowded news conference at an airport hotel.
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But, he added, “if we can buy good businesses with good people at a good price, I’m not going to pass it up because I think a currency is too high.”
Buffett said he was making the rounds in a public fashion because he and his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, are less well known in Europe than in the United States, where his homespun letter to shareholders is sacred writ to many investors.
“It’s a deferred shopping tour,” Buffett said, noting he did not expect to sign any deals immediately.
To judge by his reception in Frankfurt, the man often called the Oracle of Omaha will find an eager audience in Europe.
His news conference seemed more suited to a rock star than a businessman, with a large room full of reporters, photographers and television news crews.
Reporters from Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland wanted to know whether Buffett planned to buy companies in their countries, and if so, which ones.
Yes, he replied, all those countries interested him. No, he said, he would not disclose the names of any potential targets.
The name game soon exhausted, Buffett was asked about the secrets to his investing success (stay away from things you do not understand), his view of the credit crisis (only a quarter to a half finished), and his political preference (he is backing Barack Obama over John McCain).
He likened American politics to an old saw about stock-picking: “Buy into a business that’s doing so well an idiot can run it, because sooner or later, one will. The U.S. is sort of like that.”
Buffett said he was not shunning investments in the United States, pointing out his role in helping to finance the $23 billion acquisition of Wrigley, the chewing-gum maker, by the candy giant, Mars.
But having steered clear of foreign investments for most of his career, Buffett said he viewed Europe as more fertile ground than emerging markets in Asia or elsewhere.
His minimum requirement for acquisitions, he said, was $75 million in pretax earnings.
“You want to fish in a pond where the fish are,” he said, “and Europe is a much better pond.”
On Monday, Buffett mingled with the owners of German companies at a reception in Frankfurt.
He is to go to Lausanne, Switzerland, today, followed by Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday and Milan, Italy, on Thursday.
Buffett is being accompanied by Eitan Wertheimer, an Israeli businessman who sold his family’s metalworking company, Iscar, to Berkshire Hathaway in 2006.
Open to big deal
Buffett said he would be open to a major acquisition. With some $35 billion, Berkshire Hathaway could afford to buy extremely large family-owned enterprises.
“I hope that when the time comes,” he said, “they recognize that in Berkshire Hathaway they can find things they can’t find anywhere else.”
Among the German companies rumored to be on Buffett’s shopping list is Haribo, which makes chewy candies in the shape of teddy bears.
As it happened, there were little packets of Haribo bears at the news conference, though Buffett said he knew nothing about the company.
“I like candy in general,” he said, picking up a packet. “I’m pretty favorably disposed toward candy.”