Could This Finally Make Warren Buffett a Cryptocurrency Fan?

Warren Buffett is about to spend a few hours with some of the largest players in the virtual-currency space.

Matthew Frankel, CFP
Matthew Frankel, CFP
Jun 11, 2019 at 8:07AM
Financials

Every year since 2000, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) chairman and CEO Warren Buffett has auctioned a lunch with himself for one winner and up to seven friends, with all proceeds going to charity. At the conclusion of this year's auction, we learned that the coveted power lunch was won for the record-breaking sum of $4,567,888. The annual Buffett lunches generally command price tags in the millions, but this was the highest winning bid so far, and by a large margin.

However, the amount paid wasn't the biggest surprise. Instead of remaining anonymous, like most recent winners of Buffett lunch auctions, the winner quickly revealed his identity. Dining with Buffett at the Smith & Wollensky steak house this year will be Justin Sun, the 28-year-old founder of cryptocurrency TRON (also known as Tronix or TRX).

TRON is one of the larger cryptocurrencies in the market. Excluding virtual currencies pegged to the U.S. dollar, TRON is the 10th-largest cryptocurrency, with a total market capitalization of about $2.3 billion as of this writing.

Warren Buffett smiling while surrounded by photographers

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Buffett will be outnumbered by cryptocurrency power players

As I mentioned, Sun has the ability to invite as many as seven guests for the lunch, in addition to himself and Buffett. And Sun plans to fill the table with cryptocurrency power players.

Sun has already invited three people that we know of: Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum (market cap of $26 billion); Charlie Lee, founder of Litecoin ($7.9 billion); and Changpeng Zhao, the leader of the popular Binance cryptocurrency trading platform. (Zhao has declined due to the distance he'd have to travel, but it's unclear whether the other two have accepted.)

Buffett hasn't exactly been a fan of cryptocurrencies

Sun explained to CNBC that he's a believer in Buffett's investing strategy and has personally had success using Buffett-inspired strategies in his own life. He also acknowledged that he hopes to change the Oracle of Omaha's opinion of cryptocurrencies, although Sun admits there's far too much ground to cover in a three-hour lunch meeting.

To say that Buffett isn't a big fan of cryptocurrencies is a massive understatement. In a 2018 CNBC interview, right around the time of bitcoin's all-time high, Buffett said that "In terms of cryptocurrencies, generally, I can say with almost certainty that they will come to a bad ending," and that if he could "buy a five-year put on every one of the cryptocurrencies, I'd be glad to do it."

More recently, at Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting in May, Buffett said of bitcoin that "It doesn't do anything. It just sits there. It's like a seashell or something, and that is not an investment to me." Vice-chairman Charlie Munger has been even harsher, calling cryptocurrency trading "just dementia," along with some other, more colorful comments.

To be fair, Buffett has acknowledged that there is indeed value in the blockchain technology that cryptocurrencies use. Many major corporations are investing in blockchain, and Buffett has said that Berkshire is likely investing in blockchain indirectly already. He's right. JPMorgan Chase, one of the stock investments in Berkshire Hathaway's portfolio, has massive investments in blockchain, and several other "Buffett stocks" likely have similar projects of their own.


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Can he be swayed?

Sun clearly hopes to change the Oracle of Omaha's mind about cryptocurrencies. As he recently explained in an open letter, "even one of the most successful investors of all times can sometimes miss a coming wave"; he mentioned that Buffett admittedly didn't recognize the potential of Amazon.com and certain other highly successful companies.

Buffett released a statement saying that he's looking forward to the lunch, and is thrilled that the Glide Foundation (the beneficiary of the lunch auction) is getting such a large donation. But will Buffett's views on bitcoin change? I'm not holding my breath -- but we'll have to wait until after his cryptocurrency power lunch takes place to know for sure.