Called the “Oracle of Omaha,” superstar investor Warren Buffett has a long history of being an ultra successful capitalist, not to mention a dedicated philanthropist who takes part in initiatives like The Giving Pledge. But in the wake of increased criticism of his business dealings, some are questioning whether or not Buffett puts his money where his mouth is.
At a recent hedge fund conference in Las Vegas, Third Point leading man Dan Loeb suggested that Buffett’s statements against hedge fund activists present a stark contrast to Buffett’s own background and activities. “He criticizes hedge funds, but he used to run one,” said Loeb. “He criticizes activists, but he was the first activist. He says we should all pay more taxes, yet he avoids them himself.” Loeb’s comments received applause and laughter from the audience.
Buffett has historically been rather negative toward activist hedge funds, stating that he doesn’t believe they can outperform the broader market—specifically the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. However, research suggests that activist hedge funds can actually have a very positive effect on the businesses they work with.
Buffett has also been fielding criticism based on a report from the Center for Public Integrity and the Seattle Times, which refers to him as “one of America’s leading predatory home lenders” based on his company Berkshire Hathaway’s practices regarding Clayton Homes. The Maryville, TN-based mobile home buyer has been accused of using deceptive practices including locking borrowers into bad deals, raising interest rates above 15%, and adding on surprise fees. Neither Berkshire nor Buffett himself commented on the story, though a statement was sent to the Seattle Times saying that the story was “misleading” without giving specific clarification.
Whether these criticisms will be a passing phase, or whether they will set the stage for significant changes in Buffett’s dealings, remains to be seen.