May 4, 2019

Warren Buffett talks Wells Fargo, Google and bitcoin

Photo: Johanned Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

A shareholder asked Warren Buffett at this year's annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting why the billionaire investor has “been so silent” about the scandal that plagued Wells Fargo starting in 2017. Buffett said: "It looks to me like Wells made some big mistakes," adding that the banking institution incentivized "the wrong behavior."

The backdrop: When it was revealed that Wells Fargo employees had opened more than a million unauthorized accounts, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the companies handlings of wealth management, and the bank was fined for charging customers for unwanted insurance. Buffett also became the largest shareholder of Wells Fargo in 2017 with about 10% of the shares.

But, but, but: Berkshire Hathaway's vice chairman Charlie Munger said former Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan was a "casualty," and wishes Sloan was still there.

What Buffett is saying:

  • Buffett and Munger said their biggest regret is not investing in Google because they were just "sucking their thumbs."
  • Buffett re-asserted his disdain for bitcoin, calling it a "gambling device," reports CNBC. Last year, Buffett equated bitcoin to "rat poison." He said, "It doesn't do anything. It just sits there. It's like a seashell or something, and that is not an investment to me."
  • Buffett also said he has "no ambition to spend a dime" on buybacks.
  • "I don't think the country will go to socialism in 2020," Buffett added.

By the numbers: Buffett's company reported a profit of almost $21.7 billion in the first quarter of 2019, compared to a loss of $1.1 billion. These numbers don't include any profit from Kraft Heinz, which "has not made its financial statements for the first quarter of 2019 available." Buffett's company has a 26.7% stake in Kraft Heinz. In regards to Heinz, Buffett said, "there's something going on" and added that he paid too much for the company in 2015.

Go deeper: Warren Buffett enters Anadarko bidding war with $10 billion commitment

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U.S. coronavirus updates: Chicago jail is largest-known source of coronavirus

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Chicago's Cook County jail is the largest-known source of coronavirus infections in the U.S., the New York Times reports. The White House has identified Chicago's metro area as a risk for exponential growth of the virus.

Why it matters: Public health officials have warned this would be a particularly deadly week for America, even as New York began to see declining trends of hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 28 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,504,971 — Total deaths: 87,984 — Total recoveries: 318,068Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 424,945 — Total deaths: 14,529 — Total recoveries: 23,292Map.
  3. Federal government latest: Top Trump administration officials had been developing a plan to give cloth masks to huge numbers of Americans, but the idea lost traction amid heavy internal skepticism.
  4. States latest: Chicago's Cook County jail is largest-known source of coronavirus in U.S.
  5. Business update: One-third of U.S. jobs are at risk of disappearing, mostly affecting low-income workers.
  6. World update: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to put politics aside "if you don’t want to have many more body bags.”
  7. Environment update: COVID-19 is underscoring the connection between air pollution and dire outcomes from respiratory diseases.
  8. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

The pandemic and pollution

New York City's skyline on a smoggy day in May 2019. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

COVID-19 is underscoring the connection between air pollution and dire outcomes from respiratory diseases.

Why it matters: Old-fashioned air pollution is almost certainly the single biggest environmental health threat, contributing to the deaths of some 7 million people a year according to the WHO, making it comparable to deaths from smoking.

Go deeperArrow3 hours ago - Health