Warren Buffett: Dã thú bình dân nhất của nước Mỹ

trên các phương tiện truyền thông, Warren Buffett thường được miêu tả là ông già vui tính, tốt bụng

nhưng theo quyển sách mới của nhà báo, tác giả David Dayen tên là 'Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power', Warren Buffett là điển hình của một ông trùm độc quyền, xây dựng đế chế bảo hiểm và dùng tiền đó đầu tư theo triết lý 'build a moat around your business' (xây hào bảo vệ xung quanh doanh nghiệp của bạn', tìm và đầu tư vào các doanh nghiệp độc quyền (ví dụ có nhiều: báo chí, dược phẩm, công ty sở hữu tên miền .com, công ty sản xuất và bán máy cày, thiết bị nông nghiệp, bia, công ty định giá tín dụng moody's (lý do mua vì, well, chỉ có 3 công ty định giá tín dụng)), sở hữu khoảng 70-90 doanh nghiệp/tập đoàn hầu hết đều có thị phần lớn nhất trên thị trường, sử dụng các biện pháp phi cạnh tranh để đẩy đối thủ ra khỏi thị trường (phá sản)... 

tác giả kết luận rằng trong một nền chính trị hoặc kinh tế được vận hành tốt, công bằng thì Warren Buffett không tồn tại, ngay từ khởi đầu,

và cách để các nhà làm luật, thực thi chống độc quyền đó là cho Buffet một cái trát hầu tòa, và "đàn hặc" về từng công ty và lý do mà buffet đầu tư vào đó...

chúng ta bị truyền thông "dắt mũi" bao lâu rồi các bạn? sau khi đọc quyển sách này liệu bạn có "cười khẩy" khi thấy các bài báo về "lời khuyên đầu tư" của ông?
Your book is about monopolies (độc quyền). One character who keeps popping up (thường xuyên xuất hiện) in the book, surprisingly (đáng ngạc nhiên), is Warren Buffett. He’s a genial kindly old man in the media. But who is Warren Buffett in this book?

Buffett is the avatar (sự giáng sinh; sự hoá thân, sự hiện thân) of monopoly. This is a guy whose investments
philosophy (triết lý) is literally (theo nghĩa đen) that of a monopolist. I mean, he invented (nghĩ ra) this sort of term (khái niệm), the economic “moat,” (cái hào) that if you build a moat around your business, then it's going to be successful. I mean, this is the language of building monopoly power (quyền lực độc quyền). He not only looks for monopolies in the businesses he invests in, but he takes it to heart in the business that he's created, Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway owns something like 70 or 80 or 90 companies and they have large market shares in all sorts of areas of the economy.

It's kind of like an old school conglomerate from the sixties and seventies, but there are certain facets (mặt, khía cạnh) of it, where he's clearly trying to corner a market (lũng đoạn thị trường). Buffett's initial (ban đầu) businesses that he actually outright purchased were newspapers. It started with the Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York. And he used anti-competitive practices (hành vi phi cạnh tranh) to put the competition, his rival newspaper, out of business. That was literally his MO there.

What are some of the surprising businesses or sectors he's involved in? We don’t typically hear Warren Buffett and opioids in the same sentence. And yet…

Teva Pharmaceuticals is one of the companies in which Buffett has had a huge investment. And Teva is one of the manufacturers of generic opioid based products. Buffett knows well that there's no better way to put a moat around your business than to sell an addictive product (sản phẩm gây nghiện).

We don't usually typically think of Buffett as sort of a drug dealer, but he certainly sells a lot of opioids or makes money from those who do sell it by owning the stock. It just seems to me like his real job is to put a happy genial face on abusive power (khoác cho quyền lực lũng đoạn bộ mặt hiền hòa, thân ái). You know, everybody in the investment world loves Buffett. But the Sherman Act is a criminal statute because traditionally monopolization was understood as a crime.

I think that's true, and it has a very direct impact. Warren Buffett's a huge investor in DaVita, which is one of two dialysis (thẩm tách) companies. These companies give really terrible service and capitalize on the fact that Medicare covers kidney disease (bệnh thận) in America. And DaVita just rips off (hành động gian lận, lấy trộm, bán với giá quá đắt...) the government, as I show in my book.

Buffett is also an owner of the largest trailer park manufacturers. And he has presided over the complete rip-off of very vulnerable people (người dân dễ bị tổn thương nhất) who can't afford anything more than a mobile home (nhà di động).

What is Verisign and how is Warren Buffett involved?

Verisign is one of the most amazing companies that nobody knows about. It sells really one product. When someone registers a .COM or .NET website, Verisign gets a cut. It is one of the most profitable companies in the world by profit margin. The reason is that it costs essentially nothing for Verisign to register one more .COM website. Once it has the database set up to make sure that when you type in xyz.com that you actually go to that website, once you add one more to that, it doesn't really cost them any money. The profit margins are as high as 65%, which is insane (điên rồ). Like you see that nowhere else in business.

Is Verisign a government-granted monopoly?

Yes. The right to manage .COM and .NET domains is a government contract (hợp đồng chính phủ). It’s done through a a quasi-government entity, technically a nonprofit, called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Most recently in 2018, ICANN gave Verisign the right to increase the prices for that registry. Now these are small prices for each website, but every time you increase them, it's essentially billions and billions of dollars in free money that Verisign is allowed to grab. And Warren Buffett has nearly 13 million shares of this stock.

This is not a well-known stock, not a high trading stock necessarily, but he recognized many years ago that they have a moat around their business. They're the only ones that get to assign .COM names and take 10 bucks a year for each domain name, which is a small amount in of itself. But if you take it from 150 million people, all of a sudden, you're talking about real money. He’s one of our nation's greatest monopoly spotters.

It's also a bet on corruption, right? Because if ICANN were running domain name registration responsibly, they would be reducing the price, but they're increasing the price or allowing Verisign to increase the price.

Right. If there was responsible management within this market another company who could do it for little as a dollar a domain would get that contract. But these contracts are automatically renewed as long as certain performance metrics are met. And you know Verisign acts like a monopolist because a few years ago ICANN put another domain name suffix, .WEB, on the market. It was seen as a competitive product to .COM. Well Verisign essentially rigged the auction for .WEB; they created a fake company called NewCo that bid this enormous amount of money, $135 million, for .WEB, and won the auction. And two days later, they put out this press release saying, well, Verisign was actually NewCo. To this day, not a single .WEB web address has been created. They bought the company to take it off the market.

That's a classic killer acquisition, obviously anti-competitive. What else does Buffett own?

I tried very hard in the book to get Buffett into every single chapter. Buffett was for many years one of the major investors in John Deere. John Deere not only holds a monopoly over tractors and farm equipment, but exploits its power by forcing farmers to return to its manufacturers in order to repair its products, essentially blocking people from repairing their own equipment. (bán máy cày, rồi nông dân phải quay lại để sửa, ko thể tự sửa máy cày, vậy như là bán giấy phép sử dụng máy thôi) John Deere even says that the only thing people buy when they buy a John Deere tractor is a license to run the machine.

And John Deere has become one of the largest farm credit companies in the United States, and so they are now lending out money to farmers to buy John Deere equipment.

How does Warren Buffett intersect with craft beer?

Warren Buffett has this long-standing partnership with 3G, which is a Brazilian private equity firm, and he has gone in and helped them make a lot of their deals. This includes the merger (sáp nhập) between Burger King and Tim Horton's and between Kraft and Heinz, now two of the largest food corporations in the world. (hai tập đoàn thực phẩm lớn nhất thế giới) He also helped 3G have its subsidiary, a Belgian beer company named InBev, buy Anheuser Busch. AB InBev now has hundreds of brands of beer, well beyond just Busch and Budweiser, including craft brewing. You look at the beer market and superficially, you would think, there’s a lot of choice there, but in reality, AB InBev has bought up a lot of these craft brewing companies. (hàng trăm nhãn bia trên thị trường, tưởng nhiều lựa chọn, thật ra là của AB InBev hết mà thôi) And they obscure (làm tối, làm mờ; mơ hồ, khó hiểu, ko rõ nghĩa) it on the label, so it’s hard to see that AB InBev owns this brand. Buffett helped engineer this merger, so there’s now a behemoth that has a large chunk of the beer market, not just in the United States, but around the world.

What else?

Buffett has become a large investor in Amazon. Even though he had sort of a longstanding history of staying out of anything involved with computers and tech, because he used to say, “I had to understand the product and business.” Well, he understood the monopoly that Amazon was putting together, so he purchased a large share of their stock.

One of the more interesting investments that Warren Buffett has had for a long time is Moody's. Moody’s is one of the big three credit rating agencies, which rates bonds for investors. There was a very interesting moment after the 2008 financial crisis where the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) came to interview Warren Buffett, not just about the credit rating business, but all the financial services area. He has over $100 billion in shares in financial services arena. Banking is something that has served him well over the years. The FCIC asks Buffett, “what do you know about the credit rating business?” And he says, “I know nothing about the credit rating business. The only reason I bought it is because there are only three credit rating agencies and they serve the whole country, and they have pricing power.” (chẳng biết gì về định giá tín dụng, chỉ biết rằng có 3 công ty và phục vụ thị trường, vậy là chắc chắn có quyền lực về giá)

And if you have a business like that, I believe what Buffett said is ‘even your idiot cousin could run it.’ (ngay cả đứa em họ ngờ nghệch cũng làm giám đốc giúp được) And so Buffett is not just someone who stumbled into monopolies because he likes blue chip stocks. He seeks them out, and he is very dedicated to this whole concept of finding companies who are bereft of competition and profiting off of them. And this is a strategy where he has led the market rather than being led by it.

For instance, Morningstar now puts out an economic moat index. You know, they're following Buffett’s lead, there's literally a bundle of stocks you can buy that are monopolies that you can take out as an index fund.

One thing about Buffett that strikes me as interesting is that in the FCIC interview where they're asking him about Moody's, he said he didn't even know the name of the CEO. There's an absentee ownership aspect to Buffett’s ownership where he just owns, but has no responsibility for anything that happens, what used to be called absentee ownership.

That’s the correct definition in this case, not just his investments, but with the actual companies that he owns, he claims to have very little to do with them. That’s by design, a sort of a plausible deniability that Buffett allows himself. His philosophy remains the same, build a moat around your business. So he doesn't have to be actively managing that in order to be responsible for it because it's his management philosophy that is governing.

It's tempting to sort of let Buffett off, and say that this is just the way things are, and he’s a smart guy to capitalize on it. But he pioneered this tactic. He's been at it for many, many decades. And by cheerleading for monopoly, he helps cement it in place and he creates sort of a strategy among aspiring business tycoons that this is the way that you succeed in America. And Buffett has a lot of power and influence.

In a fair economy or well-run economy or political system, could Warren Buffett exist?

No, I mean, right from the outset, he couldn't exist because the way in which he created his business is through creating an insurance conglomerate and using the payments for these large investments. And now he just makes money because he has money. When Warren Buffett goes into a stock, the stock moves and, following Buffett is a legit investment strategy that other people have. Buffett is largely untaxed on a lot of this stuff because he doesn't sell very often.

Is Berkshire Hathaway a good roadmap for regulators and antitrust enforcers?

Warren Buffett would be the best informant for an antitrust authority that you could find, because he's already looked into the economy and found the companies that have the most inordinate market power. And so all you’d need to do is subpoena him and say, all right, tell me about this company that you bought and why you bought it. And you would say, well, they have this incredible pricing power. Well, there you go.


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