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Buffett may be sitting on $135 billion cash, but is still unlikely to invest in India


Raamdeo Agrawal, co-founder and fund manager, Ashish Somaiya, MD &CEO, an d Gautam Sinha Roy, Senior VP- Fund Manager, Motilal Oswal AMC, discuss Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha and whether he is going to change his policy of not investing in India with ET Nows Tanvir Gill before the Berkshire Hathaway AGM on Saturday night.

Edited excerpts:

What about emerging markets? Goldman Sachs in its recent report is calling emerging markets rich countries and they are drawing parallels between developed markets and emerging markets. One would expect the big investors in the world to be looking at emerging markets, Ray Dalio has taken an exposure to emerging markets ETFs. Shouldnt Buffett say something specifically about emerging markets?

Raamdeo Agrawal: Yes, but he has not been a great fan of emerging markets. He has come here. He has the guys, his deputy Ajit Jain is from India. He knows enough about India. Clearly, he is not enamoured by opportunities of investing in India. The basic faith in the laws of capitalism is very well developed in the developed countries. Here, at a drop of a hat, you keep changing the laws. Some day, capital gains tax is there, some day there is dividend tax. Every single bureaucrat redefines his tax laws every three, four, five years. That does not suit Buffett. He wants something which is more stable in every respect.

But if you are looking at value, clearly in developed markets, there is very little scope. He has bought into two Israeli companies, one ISCAR which is a full acquisition and now Teva a minority purchase. Why cannot he look at India or China?

Raamdeo Agrawal: They must be looking at it. I am sure they must be looking to invest in India but where is the sizable opportunity? He is sitting on $135 billion cash, which by the yearend will be $160-170 billion. The minimum deal size you must suggest is not $100 million, you must suggest high quality company where he can invest a few billion dollars at a reasonable price. He is not going to buy a high quality company at any price.

Teva is a bet on generic pharma and India has got so many opportunities in generic pharma. Even what Biocon is doing is turning a page in terms of exploring the biosimilars market. There are great opportunities in Indian pharma?

Raamdeo Agrawal: So, he can buy all the airline companies. He can buy all five of them. I would not be surprised if he buys all the companies in India itself. He can surprise you any time.

Gautam Sinha Roy: Yes, definitely. They must be evaluating given that the opportunity size is increasing. We now have a $100-billion market cap company too and this is an industry where he has entered in the past. He did not make money with IBM but probably he can consider that.

But I am sure they keep evaluating these kind of deals but as Raamdeo ji said, one is the ticket size and another thing which holds through in investing is nearness bias. Everybody, for the right reasons, wants to remain in their zone of competence. He believes in America, 90% of his investments are in America and he believes in staying in that zone because that is where he understands everything — the entire macro, bottom up stories about companies every well.

I guess that is the most important reason why these guys stick to America. It is the same with us. The most important reason why we invest in India is because we understand India.

What about the fact that he is challenging his own old philosophies — buy and hold? It is a classic philosophy and he has lived by it. Now, he is saying may be that is not the most prudent strategy in this market?

Raamdeo Agrawal: I do not think fundamentally he is going to change the buy and hold per se, but buy and hold forever, that he is revisiting. He is saying that the stocks which are not strategic, he is not owning 100%. If is owning 100%, it is almost forever. But if he has a minority stake, clearly it is open to sell and we are seeing more often that he is willing to sell.

He has made some changes last year in the policy books, the guidelines of holding. So, to that extent yes, he has given in but I do not think that means a lot of change. Maybe not forever, but 10, 20, 30 years definitely he will hold it.

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