Continuing our on-the-scene coverage of Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) annual meeting, we look on as shareholders continue to poke and prod Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger on a wide variety of investing topics.
Working through a question regarding issues with Wall Street firms and stock deliveries, Buffett strongly emphasized that he has nothing against shorting stocks. He said he'd be happy if somebody shorted Berkshire's stock, since, as he put it, the one sure buyer of a stock is a guy who shorted it. He added that he'd also be fine if someone decided to naked short Berkshire stock.
Continuing, Buffett specifically called out the example of wallboard manufacturer USG (NYSE: USG ) . When the company hit really hard times, a major Wall Street firm came to Berkshire and asked to borrow millions of shares. Berkshire was paid interest while the shares were borrowed. "I wish they had borrowed more," Warren quipped and added, "Those guys didn't do too well shorting USG at $4, either."
Gambling stocks have seen some nice returns over the past year, whether you're talking about MGM (NYSE: MGM ) , Wynn (Nasdaq: WYNN ) , or Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS ) . One shareholder asked the dynamic duo whether gambling would continue to be a good business.
Buffett figured the industry will have a great future as long as gambling continues to be legal. He said the human desire to gamble is huge and cited how much more exciting a football game, even a boring one, can become just by betting a few dollars on it. Therefore, he believes, the easier it is for people to gamble, the better the gambling industry will do.
As for his personal feelings on the industry, Buffett calls gambling a "tax on ignorance," with the "ignorant" defined as people who continue to put their money on the line when the odds are against them.
Munger followed up: "It's a dirty business, and you won't soon find a casino in Berkshire Hathaway."
On being a better investor
A 17-year-old shareholder who has been to 10 straight Berkshire annual meetings asked what he should do to become a better investor.
Not surprisingly, Buffett went straight to the books. That is, he told the teen to read everything related to investing that he could get his hands on. Buffett said he was still young when he had already read every book -- some of them multiple times -- in the Nebraska public library having to do with investing. He didn't name names, but it's hard to go wrong with classics such as The Intelligent Investor or Peter Lynch's One Up on Wall Street -- and (of course!) The Motley Fool Investment Guide.
Buffett cautioned, though, that the difference between investing on paper and investing with real money is like the difference between reading a romance novel and, as he delicately put it, "doing something else." "There's nothing like having a little experience in investing," he said. Once you've done that, you can decide whether, as Buffett said, "it turns you on."
On a final note, he gave a not-too-surprising suggestion to always look a stock in terms of the whole company. So, for example, if you're thinking about buying GM (NYSE: GM ) at $30, he said, you should consider whether you think the entire company is really worth $18 billion.
There was an unspoken lesson in this answer. Thinking of today's basketball video with LeBron James, I could easily picture a Buffett video mimicking the famous Michael Jordan "Be Like Mike" ad campaign. He wouldn't say it himself, but the advice the Oracle gave the teen Berkshire investor could easily be summed up in three words: "Be Like Warren."Go back to Matt's original report to keep up with the news as it unfolds from the annual meeting.
Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of USG, which is an Inside Value pick along with Berkshire Hathaway. You can visit Matt on the Fool's CAPS service, or check out his CAPS blog. The Fool's disclosure policy always enjoys a good Omaha steak.