Following two days of Brexit-induced losses, U.S. stocks are notching up a second day of solid gains on Wednesday, with the benchmark S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) (DJINDICES: $INDU) up 1.64% and 1.53%, respectively, at 2:20 p.m. EDT. During periods of turmoil, it's easy to become fixated on daily returns -- which isn't constructive. One antidote to that is to listen to people who have been hugely successful over a lifetime. At 87, Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest denizen, is just such a person, and a rare interview with Bloomberg Television is just such an opportunity.
Li Ka-shing has experienced crisis and upheaval before. As a 12-year-old boy, he fled China to the then-British colony Hong Kong in 1940, as the Japanese were invading his birth land. Two years later, his father died, and he was forced to take work in a factory in order to support his family, but it took him a mere decade from his arrival in Hong Kong to accumulate the capital necessary to start his own company, which manufactured plastic flowers. Today, his business and property interests span the globe (his main investment vehicle is CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd), and Forbes pegs his net worth at $28 billion.
If Brexit happens, it will be detrimental to the U.K. and it will have a negative impact on the whole of Europe. Of course I hope that the U.K. doesn't leave the EU. But it's not the end of the world, either.
Brexit is not an abstract question for Li -- the Financial Times estimated that his business interests in the U.K. amount to some $50 billion, including in retail, infrastructure, and telecommunications.
Nevertheless, he appeared untroubled in offering that warning. Perhaps that has something to do with perspective -- and insisting on a margin of safety in his business dealings. One fellow who accompanied Li on a few land auctions early in his career recalls: "K.S. had a formula he believed in. He never liked debt and when bidding he never went over a certain number."
Furthermore, as Li told Bloomberg, "I'm always very careful with my cash flow. I have extra capital to get into another industry whenever I want." That will sound awfully familiar to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A) (NYSE: BRK-B) -- it's at the heart of the Berkshire model.
On China's future
People can only see the debt in the state-owned enterprises [SOEs], when they need to recognize that China is a big exporter. And the inflow from foreign exchange is also positive for China. Exports exceed imports -- that's a fact. The services industry also generates a lot of income. So in the long run, China's economy looks good.
Are the heavy liabilities of SOEs a problem for China? Yes. Li, however, thinks it's important to look at the other side of China's balance sheet. Furthermore, he's taking the long view -- one that mirrors Warren Buffett's position, who said last year:
I'm bullish on China. [The U.S.] has gone through a couple of world wars in the 20th century, the Great Depression -- we went through a civil war. We've had lots of ups and downs in this country, but overall, we've kept moving forward and China will be the same way. Long-term, China's got a long way to go.
Even if I don't get enough sleep, I'll spare an hour to read every evening.
Since you can't directly experience major events that happened before you were born, the only way to gain historical perspective is to learn about them -- and one of the best ways to do that is to read. As Berkshire vice-chairman observed, "In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn't read all the time -- none, zero," adding: "You'd be amazed at how much Warren reads -- and at how much I read."
Tweet of the day
Either there is no more fear or the VIX isn't the fear index-- Emanuel Derman (@EmanuelDerman) June 29, 2016
Alex Dumortier, CFA, has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.