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Charlie Munger still likes big banks and hates crypto

<i>Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images</i><br/>Charlie Munger
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Charlie Munger

By Paul R. La Monica, CNN

Charlie Munger, the 99-year-old vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and longtime friend and business associate of Warren Buffett, said that he’s still a fan of many big bank stocks, even as Berkshire Hathaway has trimmed its top financial holdings. He also stepped up his long-time criticism of cryptocurrencies.

“I might have different ideas [than Buffett],” Munger said about bank stocks at the annual meeting for the Los Angeles-based newspaper publisher Daily Journal, where Munger was chairman until last year. Munger remains a board director at Daily Journal and is one of its top investors. The meeting was livestreamed on CNBC.

Daily Journal, like Berkshire Hathaway, is a conglomerate that also owns some individual stocks. Daily Journal’s portfolio is much smaller than Berkshire’s. But the company does own stakes in four notable companies: Bank of America, US Bancorp and Wells Fargo as well as China’s Alibaba.

Munger said he doesn’t want to sell Daily Journal’s bank investments because Daily Journal bought many of the stocks at the bottom during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. So the company would face a big tax bill in California if it cashed in on those gains.

“It’s not so bad for us. We’re not in a normal position. We’re willing to hold them for a while,” he said.

Munger, occasionally sipping on a Diet Coke (Coca-Cola is one of Berkshire’s top stock holdings) and chewing on peanut brittle from Berkshire-owned See’s Candies, was also asked about ChatGPT and how it might impact the Daily Journal’s newspaper business.

“Artificial intelligence is very important but there is a lot of crazy hype on the subject. AI is not going to cure cancer,” he said. “There’s a lot of nonsense in it too. I regard it as a mixed blessing.”

Munger on China and crypto

Munger was also asked about some of Daily Journal’s investments in China, particularly in light of the suspected Chinese spy balloon controversy and the country’s crackdown on many of its homegrown companies.

Munger said he remains optimistic about China’s economy, but conceded that Daily Journal’s investment in Alibaba was “one of the worst mistakes I ever made.”

“I never stopped to think [Alibaba] was still a retailer. It’s going to be a competitive business,” he said.

Munger was questioned as well about why he (and Buffett) prefer to own shares of Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD as opposed to Elon Musk’s Tesla.

“BYD is so much ahead of Tesla in China it’s almost ridiculous,” Munger said. But he conceded that it’s an expensive stock. Berkshire has been trimming its stake in BYD over the past year.

Munger, who has been a significant critic of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, continued his attack on digital assets Wednesday, continuously referring to crypto as a four-letter curse word used to describe excrement.

“I think people who oppose my position are idiots,” he said, adding that investors should avoid people who promote cryptocurrencies, once again saying that cryptocurenecies are “worthless,” “crazy,” “ridiculous” and “unspeakable.”

Munger also recently wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal suggesting that the US ban cryptocurrencies.

Investors may hear more from Munger in just a few months. He is expected to appear with Buffett in Omaha on May 6 at Berkshire’s annual meeting.

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