Seattle/New York: Billionaire Charles Munger entertained shareholders of a small publishing company with his thoughts on giant financial firms, the new US president and the world’s two most populous nations.
India is a country where people are burdened by a system that thwarts progress, the prominent investor said, when asked about the prospects for the nation’s economy. China has been effective in lifting workers out of poverty, Munger said, but not without pointing out what he sees as a flaw among its population.
“Too many people believe in luck and gamble, and that’s a national defect," Munger, 93, said on Wednesday at the annual meeting for Daily Journal Corp., the Los Angeles-based newspaper publisher where he serves as chairman.
Few companies of Daily Journal’s size would draw much attention. But its affiliation with Munger—best known as Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner at Berkshire Hathaway Inc.—has made the firm a curiosity among investors. The publisher’s annual meeting draws a standing-room-only crowd of a few hundred people who come to ask Munger questions and listen to his thoughts on investing, the economy and politics.
Last year, Munger criticized Bernie Sanders, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for president, and said that real estate mogul Donald Trump was “not morally qualified" for the post. On Wednesday, he advised skeptics not to be distraught by the Republican’s victory in November.
‘Roll with it’
“He’s not wrong on everything," Munger said of Trump, praising the president’s vow to protect Social Security payments. “Roll with it."
Munger also responded to questions on American Express Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., two of the largest holdings at Berkshire. The San Francisco-based bank is well-positioned to recover from the fake-account scandal that led to fines and prompted its chief executive officer to resign, according to Munger.
“Wells Fargo had a glitch," he said, faulting the lender for being too slow to recognize the seriousness of the scandal. “I don’t think anything is fundamentally wrong" with the bank’s business model.
He did express some skepticism about AmEx however, saying that it’s hard to gauge the long-term prospects of companies in the payments industry.
“If you think you know what’s going to happen to payment systems 10 years out, you’re probably under some state of delusion," he said.
Buffett, 86, has credited Munger with broadening Berkshire’s approach to investing beyond buying stocks at a fraction of the value of their underlying assets. The company that Buffett controlled in 1965 was a maker of men’s suit linings. With Munger’s help, he began assembling a conglomerate spanning the insurance, railroad, manufacturing and consumer-goods industries that’s now valued at more than $400 billion.
On Wednesday, Munger took questions about India and China, which have more than 1 billion people each and account for about a third of the world’s population. He was asked about efforts in India, the world’s largest democracy, to encourage entrepreneurship with market reforms.
“India is grossly defective because they took the worst aspects of our culture, allowing a bunch of idiots to scream and stop everything. And they copied it," Munger said. “They’ve taken the worst aspects of democracy." He said the Indians he knows are “fabulous people" but that the country struggles with corruption.
“The Chinese government really tries to help its companies," Munger said, contrasting that with India. “What I like about China is they have some companies that are very strong and still selling at low prices. And the Chinese are formidable workers and they make wonderful employees."
Still, for Munger, there is that issue with gambling.
“They actually believe in luck," he said. “That is stupid. You want to believe in odds." Bloomberg