Warren Buffett had plenty of admirers Saturday at the annual meeting of his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in Omaha, Nebraska. Some hedge-fund managers in Las Vegas this week seem more inclined to throw stones at the investing legend.
Jim Chanos followed up Thursday on comments made a day before by Daniel Loeb, citing inconsistencies in the billionaire’s words and actions. Buffett was on the board of Coca-Cola Co. in the late 1990s when the soft-drink maker was playing “egregious accounting games” with its bottler, said Chanos, who was betting on the stock to decline. Buffett has long complained publicly about accounting at corporations.
“Who isn’t guilty of hypocrisy?” asked Chanos, 57, in a Bloomberg Television interview during the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference at the Bellagio hotel. “I hope when I’m 85, I’m getting a few free passes, too.”
Buffett built Berkshire into one of the biggest companies in the world over the past five decades through stock picks and acquisitions. As his celebrity has grown, he became more of a lightning rod. He frequently uses his annual letters and media appearances to criticize Wall Street’s excesses and the fees that hedge-fund managers charge. He has also called for higher taxes on the wealthy.
Loeb, 53, who runs the $17.4 billion Third Point hedge fund firm, said Wednesday that while he loves reading Buffett’s letters, he also enjoys finding contradictions.
“He criticizes hedge funds yet he really had the first hedge fund,” Loeb said. “He criticizes activists. He was the first activist. He criticizes financial service companies, yet he likes to invest in them. He thinks that we should all pay more taxes but he loves avoiding them himself.”
Buffett began amassing his wealth by forming hedge-fund like partnerships that took stakes in Berkshire and other companies. When the partnerships dissolved, Berkshire became his investment vehicle.
The company has multibillion-dollar stakes in banks including Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Buffett receives a $100,000 salary from Berkshire and has committed almost all his wealth to charity.
Leon Cooperman, the founder of Omega Advisors, defended Buffett on Thursday, saying that the Berkshire CEO has “a lot of smarts” and gets unfairly criticized for his stance on taxes.
“He’s a complex individual,” Cooperman, 72, said on Bloomberg Television. “He operates within the law. Anybody who pays taxes who doesn’t have to pay taxes is a fool.”
Buffett didn’t respond to requests for comment sent to an assistant Wednesday and Thursday. Kent Landers, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, declined to comment.