Lunch with Warren Buffett
The Oracle of Omaha discusses housing, oil prices and the bid for Dow Jones before meeting a man who paid $600,000 to dine with him.
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Finance legend Warren Buffett had lunch in a New York steak house Wednesday with a businessman from China who paid more than $600,000 to dine with the Oracle of Omaha.
After exchanging e-mails with the highest bidder, Buffett learned that the gentleman built a successful business in China from scratch, later moved to the United States, and has donated $40 million to a number of charities, Buffett told CNN during an interview at the upstairs bar of Smith and Wollensky steak house in midtown Manhattan.
"He sounds like an absolutely first class person, I'm looking forward to seeing him," he said with a smile ear-to-ear.
The name of this year's online auction winner was not disclosed but CNN caught a glimpse of him Wednesday afternoon just before sitting to down to eat with Buffett.
Buffett is the third richest man in the world but you'd never know it seeing him sit on a bar stool, joking around and laughing with reporters.
However, it's not all fun and games for the man who owns more than 60 companies in various sectors, including clothing, candy, and natural gas. Buffett simultaneously runs Berkshire (Charts, Fortune 500) which has substantial investment stakes in household name companies like Wal-Mart (Charts, Fortune 500) and Coca-Cola (Charts, Fortune 500).
But the 76-year-old Buffett is hardly resting. He has his sights set on taking over a company worth at least $10 billion - although the right match is proving hard to find.
"I've got an elephant gun, I just can't find the elephant," he said with a chuckle. He didn't name names but he did say he'd continue looking for the right buy and "it could be anything that I understand... I don't say I want to be in the chemical industry, in the oil industry or something... I want it [a company] with good long term enduring economic advantage. I want management I trust and admire and I want the right price."
On top of managing his holdings, Buffett's on the hunt for a successor to fill his post at Berkshire, another match proving hard to find. He said he did not believe the man who won the Glide Foundation auction was seeking "face-time" with him in order to apply for the open position.
In a letter to shareholders earlier this year, he launched an unusual strategy for filling the highly coveted spot - encouraging interested parties far and wide to write him letters applying for the job. The unusual and unexpected decision on his part has been compared to television contests like American Idol.
Buffett says he has not been approached by any TV networks about televising the search for his successor but "it might be a good idea, maybe I can meet all these guys on an island and keep throwing them off here and there," he quipped.
The man knows how to crack a joke but he knows business better than anyone. When asked what he was more concerned about - rising prices at the pump or the ailing housing market - he replied without missing a beat.
"The housing market is going to be an immediate problem and in some areas of the country it could be quite sustained... there are places that look to me like it'll take at least a couple of years to clear through the oversupply that's there."
"We've sort of gotten used to gas prices now, they're sort of built in... If you had an oil shock of some sort and oil went to $100 a barrel, then that would change the game materially," he said.
What else concerns the self-proclaimed "thrifty" investor (the word also written on his license plate)? The performance of the stock market and interest rates do not top the list.
The Federal Reserve's interest rate decisions have "nothing to do with whether I buy a business or whether I buy a stock... I'll read the papers about it but it actually means nothing to me."
While Buffett knows the market will go up in the next 20 and 50 years, whether or not it performs well in the short term is not important.
"It really doesn't make any difference to me. I just want to buy good companies at the right price," he told CNN. And the right price can be hard to calculate for some companies, such as Dow Jones (Charts), he said.
The financial news service, which owns the Wall Street Journal, received an unsolicited bid from media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp (Charts, Fortune 500). last Tuesday for about $5 billion, or $60 per share.
Buffett wants 'huge' business
The right bidding price for a company like Dow Jones, Buffett believes, is "a price that reflects the combination of economic potential and the importance of owning the Journal. It's A plus B in effect," and because the newspaper is such a significant property, "the question of what B will bring is a hard thing."
To explain his point, he compared pricing Dow Jones to an unlikely commodity. "What would the New York Yankees bring if put up for sale? It wouldn't be based on the earnings and a lot of people would like to own the New York Yankees if they got enough money," he said with a laugh.
"How much that part of the psychic income is very hard to evaluate... it's much easier to evaluate the economic income and so whether $60 is what it's worth counting the psychic income aspect of it is hard to say," he added. "We may find people to whom it's worth more, who knows."
Buffett did not say if he would be giving out any free psychic income advice during his lunch with the successful businessman. However, he did say he was looking forward to a great steak, took a big swig of his classic Coca-Cola bottle, and walked downstairs to meet the man who paid more than half a million dollars to listen to what advice one of the world's most respected financiers had to give.