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Overcoming the Nabobs of Negativity

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I’m driving to Florida for a short vacation – should be in the Sunshine State by the time you read this, which is written early Tuesday and emailed by IPad. Two things happened yesterday: 

1. While driving, I listened to an inventor, interviewed on NPR, bemoan the fact that our kids were not getting enough science and engineering in school. A call-in named Mark opined that years ago a guy – he couldn’t remember the name – helped companies overseas with manufacturing processes for autos and seemed to indicate that he didn’t help manufacturers “here” and only helped companies “there.”

From my memory banks, Mark, the “guy” was Dr. Edwards Deming, and he developed new “just-in-time” methods for manufacturing in the 1940s and 1950s, but, although, hat-in-hand, he tried to interest U.S. auto companies in his ideas, no one here bought into his radical suggestions. However, companies like Toyota and Nissan seemed interested. Edwards Deming became a hero to the Japanese manufacturers.

The U.S. inventor being interviewed didn’t seem to be engaged, and he did not respond to thoughts about positive things in the U.S. He was, Spiro Agnew might have said, a nabob of negativism. He did not mention the iPad, or even his own inventions. He came across as a sourpuss. And I wondered – if our education systems are so bad – why do those overseas keep applying to our schools?

2. At a hotel famous for ducks in Little Rock, I watched “Squawk Box,” a morning TV show about the market. An optimistic guy named Warren Buffett was interviewed by Becky Quick and then cross-interviewed by the crew.  

Seems like Mr. B feels that things will be sorted out; he said that Berkshire’s businesses, including Dairy Queen, were all showing good signs of economic recovery. Berkshire recently invested over $20 billion in IBM and other companies (Berkshire now owns over 5% of IBM and it is unusual for it to buy into tech – was this a move by new investing-heir-apparent Todd Combs?).

Mr. Buffett, in my view, was very enthusiastic and sharp as a tack.   Indeed, WB at eighty seems at the top of his game. He didn’t say the U.S. did not have problems; he said he thought things were better and that they would continue to improve. 

One may always be optimistic or pessimistic. I choose optimism. One may buy B shares of Berkshire for what may turn out to be bargain-basement prices of around $75 (Monday’s close).

Would that be a 25% or greater discount to fair value? Berkshire owns more than 60 companies outright and has significant positions in others (Coke, American Express and it recently invested over $10 billion in IBM; it owns 100% of Burlington Northern Santa Fe). When others are fearful, Mr. Buffett is being greedy.

Be optimistic and accumulate good buys, okay?  Have a great week.  


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