Josh “The Reformed Broker” Brown is the CEO of New York-based Ritholtz Wealth Management and a frequent guest on CNBC. In a recent podcast appearance, Mr. Brown speculated on the interesting possibility that Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos has replaced Warren Buffett as the world’s greatest capitalist.
The Professor G Show is a popular finance podcast hosted by the frequently profane Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at the New York Stern School of Business. In the May 7 episode, Mr. Galloway invited Mr. Brown to discuss the economic effects and fairness of U.S. government stimulus but it turned into a love fest for Jeff Bezos.
“I came away from the Berkshire Hathaway [annual meeting] very dispirited”, said Mr. Brown. “I felt like it was just the decline of Buffett and Buffett-ism."
He went on to suggest that “If Berkshire is on their way out as the bastion of capitalism as a religion, maybe it’s the Bezos letter that we start to enshrine as the annual check-in with the world’s greatest capitalist.”
The catalyst for the Bezos adulation was Amazon’s most recent earnings report. Analysts predicted huge profits for the quarter, but Mr. Bezos informed shareholders that all profits were going to safeguard employees from the coronavirus through increased testing, new work practices and in-house research efforts.
Both Mr. Galloway and Mr. Brown interpreted the move as indicative of a CEO who is truly and decisively running a giant company for the long term. Mr. Brown also said, “you could not dream up a better conglomerate than Amazon” to deal with the current pandemic.
I tend to get nervous about markets when discussion turns to the demise of Berkshire Hathaway. In the late 1990s, for instance, Mr. Buffett’s refusal to own expensive technology stocks had his portfolio trialing the markets badly. There was plenty of talk that the Oracle of Omaha’s investment method was outdated before the tech bubble popped, and Berkshire Hathaway’s returns again led the market.
This time might be different howeve,r and Mr. Buffett himself might not be surprised at the passing of the torch. In 2017 he called Jeff Bezos “the best business person I’ve ever seen" during a meeting with University of Maryland students.
History tells investors to never count Warren Buffett out. On the other hand it is notable that some of Berkshire Hathaway’s biggest investments in the past decade – overpaying for Kraft-Heinz in 2013 and more recently airline stocks – have turned out poorly while Amazon’s stock has rocketed higher.
Whenever Mr. Buffett’s tenure does end there will be endless questions to answer about the implications for investors. Are American brands still deserving of premium stock prices internationally? Have valuation techniques permanently changed from price to book value-focused to return on assets ratios that justify higher technology stock prices?
For now we can only speculate but should also be appreciating Mr. Buffett’s positive influence on the investing world at the same time.
-- Scott Barlow, Globe and Mail market strategist
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The Rundown (for subscribers)
Clean energy stocks are sailing through pandemic, for good reasons
Despite a backdrop of soaring government deficits, plummeting economic activity and shockingly cheap fossil fuels, clean energy is looking remarkably resilient right now – underscoring that the sector is more than a destination for environmentally conscious investors. Share prices for Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp., Brookfield Renewable Partners LP, Northland Power Inc. and Boralex Inc., all Toronto Stock Exchange-listed companies that generate solar, wind and hydroelectric power in Canada and abroad, have rebounded by more than 50 per cent from their recent lows in March, on average. Perhaps more remarkable, the stocks are now just 10 per cent below their recent highs, implying that the renewables sector is sailing through a key viability test from the COVID-19 lockdown that has shaken the global economy. David Berman takes a closer look at why this is happening.
Investors beware: It’s not yet bargain-hunting time
The stock market has been persistently optimistic in recent weeks. Investors seem to have taken the view that by 2021 the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting recession it has created will be fading away in the rear-view mirror. Gordon Pape wishes he could share their positivity. But a realistic look ahead suggests otherwise. He tells us more.
Resource shares may pay off on economic rebound
The misery in the resource sector is creating a buying opportunity for patient investors. Shares of oil producers and miners are now at some of their cheapest levels in history compared with the rest of the market. They are priced for despair. Canadian energy stalwarts such as Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Cenovus Energy Inc. trade for roughly half their prices at the beginning of the year. Global mining titans such as BHP Group Ltd. and Rio Tinto Ltd. also change hands for substantial discounts to their prices of a few months ago. At least for now, they offer dividend yields north of 6 per cent. If the coming years turn out to be just a little bit better than miserable, downtrodden resource shares like these could produce surprisingly strong results. Ian McGugan takes a look..
Repeat after me: The markets are not the economy
The stock market looks increasingly divorced from economic reality. The United States is on the brink of the worst economic collapse since the Hoover administration. Corporate profits have crumpled. More than 1 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus, and hundreds are dying each day. There is no turnaround in sight. Yet stocks keep climbing. Even as 20.5 million people lost their jobs in April, the S&P 500 stock index logged its best month in 33 years. Matt Phillips of The New York Times examines the causes of this apparent disconnect.
Investors search for bargains in energy sector minefield
Investors are rummaging through battered energy stocks to play a potential rebound in oil prices, just weeks after crude futures traded below zero for the first time ever. It’s a high-stakes game. The months-long plunge in oil has dragged valuations in the sector to their lowest levels in decades, according to some measures, raising companies’ allure to bargain hunters. Yet bankruptcies in the oil patch are expected to grow, and choosing the wrong stock could leave a portfolio with outsized losses. Lewis Krauskopf and April Joyner of Reuters report.
Others (for subscribers)
Monday’s Insider Report: Executives lock in million-dollar profits in these two stocks
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