Friday, November 13, 2009

CNBC TRANSCRIPT: Warren Buffett & Bill Gates - Keeping America Great

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Lisa Williams. I'm from South Orange, New Jersey. I'm currently a first-year at the MBA program. Glad to have you both here. My question is actually for Mr. Buffett. There has been a lost of discussion around the true drivers with the recent deal with Burlington Northern. I was wondering if you could share with us your key motivation for wanting to increase exposure to the railroad sector at this time.

BUFFETT: You know, when I was six, I wanted a railroad set and my dad didn't get it. [APPLAUSE] You think about it. The railroads are tied to the future prosperity of this country. You can't move a railroad to China or India or anyplace else. We start out with the premise, and I can't think of a more sound premise, that there will be more people in this country, 10, 20, 30 years from now. They will be moving more and more goods back and forth to each other. And you have the most environmentally friendly and the most cost-efficient way of doing that on the railroads. The Burlington Northern last year moved -- on average it moved a ton of freight, 470 miles on one gallon of diesel. That is far, far more efficient than what takes place over the highways. You have the situation where overall they use 1/3 less fuel, they put far fewer pollutants into the atmosphere than trucks will. One train will supplant 280 trucks are so on the road. So the rails are in tune with the future. I like the West. I like the 30-some-thousand miles of roadway that Burlington has. And, you know, if this country has a poor future, the rails have a poor future. I'm willing to bet a lot of money, 34 billion to be specific -- [LAUGHTER] -- on the fact that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now, there will be more and more goods being moved by rail and better for the country and it will be better for the shareholders of the Burlington Northern.

QUESTION: I'm Peter Lawrence, first-year student from Columbia. And, first of all, thank you both so much for coming here. Mr. Buffett, the recent runup in the market has been historic. And it seems that many people question the sustainability of the current price level. Do you think the rally is for real?

BUFFETT: What's going to happen tomorrow, huh? [APPLAUSE] Let me give you an illustration. I bought my first stock in 1942. I was 11. I had been dillydallying up until then. I got serious. [LAUGHTER] What do you think the best year for the market has been since 1942? Best calendar year from 1942 to the present time. Well, there's no reason for you to know the answer. The answer is 1954. In 1954, the Dow … dividends was up 50%. Now if you look at 1954, we were in a recession a good bit of that time. The recession started in July of '53. Unemployment peaked in September of '54. So until November of '54 you hadn't seen an uptick in the employment figure. And the unemployment figure more than doubled during that period. It was the best year there was for the market. So it's a terrible mistake to look at what's going on in the economy today and then decide whether to buy or sell stocks based on it. You should decide whether to buy or sell stocks based on how much you're getting for your money, long-term value you're getting for your money at any given time. And next week doesn't make any difference because next week, next week is going to be a week further away. And the important thing is to have the right long-term outlook, evaluate the businesses you are buying. And then a terrible market or a terrible economy is your friend. I don't care, in making a purchase of the Burlington Northern, I don't care whether next week, or next month or even next year there is a big revival in car loadings or any of that sort of thing. A period like this gives me a chance to do things. It's silly to wait. I wrote an article. If you wait until you see the robin, spring will be over.

BECKY: All right. Welcome back, everybody. Welcome back to class. We have left that last break waiting for an answer from Bill Gates. Bill, if you had to pick one thing that makes you stand out from everyone else, what would that be?

GATES: Well, we talked about some of the basics, having great people around you, reading a lot, thinking long-term. I also think, though, there become a few magic moments where you have to have confidence in yourself. You know, Warren when he set off on his own, he could have gone and taken a job as an analyst somewhere. But he knew that he had the skill, that he was going to raise money and have his own partnership. When I dropped out of Harvard and said to my friends, ‘Come work for me,’ there was a certain kind of brass self-confidence in that. You have a few moments like that where trusting yourself and saying yes, this can come together -- you have to seize on those because not many come along.

Full CNBC Transcript

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