Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Buffett's Investing in the Auto Industry?

Isn't that a lot like investing in the airline industry--something that Buffett (and Einhorn) have considered anything but wise?

Turns out Buffett is investing in the auto industry, albeit one in a country where there is less and less government control (as opposed to the opposite elsewhere).

A recent article from the International Business Times gives some information on BYD--and what attracted Munger (then Buffett) to the company:

...The firm was founded in 1995, and is headed by Wang Chuan-Fu, a man described as a "combination of Thomas Edison and (former General Electric Chairman) Jack Welch- something like Edison in solving technical problems, and something like Welch in getting done what he needs to do," notes Buffet’s business partner Charlie Munger in the article Fortune Magazine. It was Munger who first the idea to invest in the firm.

BYD began with $300,000 that Wang raised from relatives as a manufacturer of rechargeable batteries. By 2000, the company became one of the world's largest producers of cell phone batteries, selling its product to Motorola, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung. In 2003, BYD acquired a Chinese state-owned car company and began to build cars. By making affordable electric cars, BYD has outpaced much larger rivals such as Toyota's Prius and Chevrolet's Chevy Volt.

Buffett first offered to purchase 25 percent of BYD but Wang rejected the offering which Buffett took as a "good sign."

"I don't know a thing about cell phones or batteries," Buffett admits, "And I don't know how cars work," but he points out: "Charlie Munger and Dave Sokol are smart guys, and they do understand it. And there's no question that what's been accomplished since 1995 at BYD is extraordinary," Fortune reports.
Munger of course was the one who brought See's Candy to Buffett's attention. Will BYD be a cash flow machine like that? It could. While Warren Buffett won't be able to do what he wants with that cash, given that he lacks full control, I bet he'd still be happy. And so would Berkshire shareholders.

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