Why Buffett Is Buying

The Omaha investor is taking advantage of the market turmoil to fire up Berkshire Hathaway’s acquisition machine. Yet a string of recent takeovers has done little to buttress the conglomerate’s flagging growth.

By Richard Teitelbaum

Warren Buffett is in Toronto, fielding questions from a crowd of 300 executives. One asks what makes people want to sell their companies to him.

The Berkshire Hathaway Inc. chief executive officer replies that he tells a prospective seller to think of the company as a work of art.

“You can sell it to Berkshire, and we’ll put it in the Metropolitan Museum; it’ll have a wing all by itself; it’ll be there forever,” he says at the February meeting. “Or you can sell it to some porn shop operator, and he’ll take the painting and he’ll make the boobs a little bigger and he’ll stick it up in the window, and some other guy will come along in a raincoat, and he’ll buy it.”

Buffett, 77, can afford to throw a little mud on his competitors in the private equity industry. Wall Street’s acquisition machine has seized up, while Buffett, in the valedictory chapter of a career stretching back more than 60 years, is on a buying spree.

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