The coronavirus pandemic has seen the Warren Buffett-led Berkshire Hathaway make investing moves once considered unthinkable.
Part of what has made Warren Buffett successful is his consistency. By sticking to time-tested investing principles, Berkshire Hathaway, under the Oracle of Omaha, has gained over 2,700,000% since 1965.
But as the coronavirus pandemic continues changing the world, Buffett has adjusted his thinking too. Now he is venturing into once-unthinkable areas and seemingly going against what he once preached.
Here is how the 90-year-old Warren Buffett has changed in the last few months.
Warren Buffett famously urged people to only invest in businesses they thoroughly understand. One of Buffett’s most famous quotes is “never invest in a business you cannot understand.”
Instead, Buffett advocates for investing within “your circle of competence.” This is the reason he has so famously stayed away from growth stocks, except for a few tech companies, a fact that earned him ridicule for underperformance in 2019.
In 2004, for instance, the Oracle of Omaha was approached to participate in Google’s initial public offering. He passed on the opportunity since, at the time, he couldn’t comprehend how the internet search giant would maintain a profitable and durable competitive edge over its rivals. Google has since then appreciated by over 3,000%.
Over the years, Buffett has grown more open to tech stocks managing to invest in Apple and Amazon, which are profitable and possess enduring competitive advantages. But this month, he did the unexpected by investing in an unprofitable tech startup ahead of an initial public offering.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that Berkshire Hathaway is buying a stake in cloud software firm Snowflake worth about $600 million. The tech startup has never recorded a profit, and its net loss in the first half of 2020 amounted to $171.3 million.
Over the years, Buffett’s distaste for gold has been public knowledge. In a speech at Harvard University over two decades ago, the Oracle of Omaha stated that gold has “no utility.”
In a 2011 letter to Berkshire shareholders, Buffett criticized the yellow metal, saying it relies on the greater fool theory–where buyers are enticed by the belief that someone else will pay more for the asset at a later date.
The same year Buffett stated that gold is a “way of going along on fear” and that you can only make money if the fear rises in the future.
Buffett now seems to be betting that the fears of inflation will increase the demand for gold and its price.
Last month, Berkshire Hathaway invested $563 million in Canadian yellow metal miner Barrick Gold. This translated to over 20.9 million shares, about 1.2% of the total outstanding shares of the gold miner.
Technically, Buffett did not purchase gold. But it was close enough, and the move suggested that the Oracle now appreciates bullion as an inflation hedge.
Warren Buffett has often warned about betting against America. He has lived true to this with most of Berkshire’s operating businesses located in the U.S.
Recently, however, he bought 5% stakes in five Japanese trading houses worth approximately $6.63 billion. The stakes could reach as much as 9.9%, thus nearly doubling the amount invested. The five trading firms are Itochu, Marubeni, Mitsubishi, Mitsui & Co., and Sumitomo.
Additionally, Buffett’s investing conglomerate issued Japanese yen bonds for the first time. This was viewed as a diversification outside his home country, and a move to cushion against dollar depreciation.