Somehow Warren Buffett, at 91 years old, is still living his best life. While other elite value investors were wondering if the time was right to pick up Google, Amazon and Microsoft on the cheap(er), Buffett was mining value where others feared to tread—the oil and gas patch—and amassing significant stakes in companies that are exacerbating our climate problems. He’s been gobbling up Chevron of late and now the 140-year-old oil company has just had its best quarter ever. Buffett, the iconoclast, has been rewarded for his willingness to buy value when others were afraid to get flattened by the E.S.G. steamroller.
Buffett, of course, doesn’t have such concerns. Yes, he theoretically reports to a board of directors at Berkshire Hathaway but as by far the company’s largest shareholder (and surrounded by either family, friends or fans), there isn’t going to be a whole lot of pushback on what Warren decides to buy or sell. If he wants to buy Chevron and Occidental Petroleum, as he has for the last few months, in bulk, no one on his board or at his minimalist office in Omaha is going to question him. He might have a debate or two with Charlie Munger, but other than that, he’s free to roam around the country. Other money managers don’t have such freedom, or think they don’t. They probably think they have to be much more responsive to the E.S.G. police or find themselves in the political crosshairs. That means no fossil-fuel investing even though many of those stocks are printing money and are trading at single digit price-to-earnings ratios.
That reluctance has paved the way for Warren to swoop in, seemingly without political repercussions, and to make a fortune, even though he already has a fortune of $105 billion these days and counting. I think others would follow Warren’s lead if they felt that they could without getting beat up for investing in fossil fuels. All of which raises an interesting question: If you are a money manager, what investing path provides greater job security: staying out of the limelight by avoiding oil and gas stocks, or making a name for yourself by plunging into securities that no one else will touch and then reaping the rewards by outperforming others? We know which path Warren has taken, all the way to the top. But there probably won’t be any other investor like him in our lifetime.