The Business on: Warren Buffett, Chief executive, Berkshire Hathaway


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The Independent Online

Is the Oracle of Omaha out of ideas?

It is the question of the hour among Buffettologists. What got them talking was news that Berkshire Hathaway, his giant investment company, will launch a share buy-back programme.

Hang on. Companies buy back their shares all the time

For Mr Buffett and Berkshire it has been an almost complete no-no. Much better, he says, to invest his company's cash in new acquisitions. That is why the buy-back (of an unspecified number of shares over an "indefinite" period) represents a capitulation of sorts for the 81-year-old investor.

So it's the end of an era?

Better to think of it as another step in Berkshire's transition from a cult centred on Mr Buffett towards being a General Electric-like conglomerate that can last for decades after he is gone.

La la la. Fingers in ears. Don't say that

Certainly the Oracle's followers hate to think of the day, but Mr Buffett is well into executing his retirement plan. Just last month he hired Ted Weschler – who he met when Mr Weschler paid millions of dollars for a charity lunch with Mr Buffett – to run some of the company's portfolio and search for new acquisitions.

What will the world do without him?

Miss him. He is not just a guru for thousands of wannabe investors, but Berkshire is now one of the world's top ten companies. What began as a small Massachusetts textile firm which Mr Buffett acquired in the 1960s is now an investor-of-last-resort for companies in distress (such as Bank of America, which got a $5bn injection last month). And Mr Buffett is turning into the conscience of the nation, too, telling America's rich that they must pay more in tax.

But he still has all his faculties

Indeed he does. And, yes, he still ascribes this to the medicinal properties of Cherry Coke.