REUTERS - Warren Buffett said on Monday 3G Capital, its controversial partner on multiple transactions, follows a “standard capitalist formula” when it sweeps away thousands of jobs and imposes deep expense cuts to make the companies it buys more efficient.
Speaking on CNBC television, Buffett said, “It’s a defect of mine” that he doesn’t focus as closely on the efficiency of business units at Berkshire Hathaway Inc, the conglomerate he has run since 1965.
Berkshire and 3G control Kraft Heinz Co and recently tried to merge it with Unilever NV for $143 billion, but was rebuffed.
The Brazilian firm is known for “zero-based budgeting,” where it requires managers to periodically defend all of their expenses, and cuts waste where possible.
“They have followed the standard capitalist formula ... of trying to do the same business with fewer people,” Buffett said. “People live better when there is more output per capita.”
Nonetheless, he acknowledged that cutting jobs can be a “painful process.”
Separately, Buffett expressed regret over his failure to invest early in Internet search company Google, now part of Alphabet Inc, saying “I should have some insight into” what became an “extraordinary business” with attributes of a monopoly.
He said he was more comfortable buying shares of Apple Inc, in which Berkshire has disclosed a 133 million share stake, worth close to $20 billion on Friday.
Buffett noted that many iPhone purchasers are repeat customers who know a new phone will be introduced regularly, or buy them for such occasions as graduations.
“I can very easily determine the competitive position of Apple now and who is trying to chase them,” he said.
He said “the shares, when we bought them, were much more reasonable” in price. Asked if he had stopped buying Apple, Buffett said: “Maybe, may not.”
Buffett said he was not bothered by initial U.S. data showing the economy grew at just 0.7 percent in the first quarter, saying it was “more or less” growing at 2 percent a year.
He said some of Berkshire’s industrial units saw upticks in business this year, as have credit card companies such as Visa Inc and American Express Co, a longtime Berkshire investment.
“Credit cards will tell you a lot about the consumer, what their attitude is,” he said.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum