Speaking to Berkshire’s millions of shareholders on Saturday, Buffett warned the company was being hit by inflationary pressures.
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BECKY QUICK: I will ask this question from Chris Freed from Philadelphia. And whoever wants to take this on stage, “From raw material purchases by Berkshire subsidiaries, are you seeing signs of inflation beginning to increase?”
WARREN BUFFETT: Let me answer that, then Greg can get more into that. We’re seeing very substantial inflation – it’s very interesting. I mean, we’re raising prices. People are raising prices to us. And it’s being accepted. Take home-building. I mean, you know, the cost of– we’ve got nine home builders in addition to our manufactured housing operation, which is the largest in the country.
So we really do a lot of housing. The costs are just up, up, up. Steel costs, you know, just every day, they’re going up. And there hasn’t yet been because the wage– the wage stuff follows. I mean, the– the UAW writes a three-year contract, we got a three-year contract.
But if you’re buying steel at General Motors or someplace, you’re paying more every day. So it’s an economy, really– it’s red hot. I mean, and we weren’t expecting it. I mean, all our companies, when they thought when they were allowed to go back to work at, well, various operations, we closed the furniture stores, I mentioned.
You know, they were closed for six weeks or so on average. And they didn’t know what was going to happen when they opened. And they can’t stop people from buying things. And we can’t deliver them. They say, well, that’s OK because nobody else can deliver them either, and we’ll wait for three months or something of the sort.
The backlog grows, and then we thought it would end when the $600– the payments ended, and I think around August of last year, it just kept going. And it keeps going and it keeps going and it keeps going. And I get the figures. Every week, we go over, day by day, what happened at the three different stores in Chicago and Kansas City and Dallas.
And it just won’t stop. People have money in their pocket, and they pay the higher prices. And when corporate prices go up in a month or two– and that was the price increase for April 1– our costs are going up, supply chain’s all screwed up for all kinds of people. But it’s a buy– it’s almost a buying frenzy, except certain areas, you can’t buy at.
You know, you really can’t buy international air travel. And so the money is being diverted from a little– some piece of the economy into the rest. And everybody’s got more cash in their pocket than– except for, meanwhile, it’s a terrible situation for a percentage of the people.
I haven’t worn a suit for a year, practically. And that means that the dry cleaners just went out of business. I mean, nobody’s bringing in suits to get dry cleaned, and nobody’s bringing in white shirts the place where my wife goes.
The small business person, if you didn’t have takeout and delivery services for restaurants, you got killed. On the other hand, if you’ve got takeout facilities, then, same-store sales at Dairy Queen are up a whole lot, and they adapted. But it is not a price-sensitive economy right now in the least. And I don’t know exactly how– what shows up in different price indices. But there’s more inflation going on than– quite a bit more inflation going on than people would have anticipated just six months ago or thereabouts.
CHARLIE MUNGER: Yeah, and there’s one very intelligent man who thinks it’s dangerous. And that’s just the start.
WARREN BUFFETT: Greg, you probably are in a good position to comment.
GREG ABEL: Yeah, well, Warren, I think you touched on it. When we look at steel prices, timber prices, any petroleum input, you know, fundamentally there’s pressure on those raw materials. I do think something you’ve touched someone, Warren, and it goes really back to the raw materials.
There’s a scarcity of product right now, of certain raw materials. It’s impacting price and the ability to deliver the end product but, you know, that scarcity factor is also real out there right now, as our businesses address that challenge. And it may be the sum of that’s contribute– or arisen from the storm we previously discussed in Texas. When you take down that many petrochemical plants in one state that the rest of the country is very dependent upon it, we’re seeing it flow through both on price, but overall in scarcity of product, which obviously go together. But there’s challenges, that’s for sure.
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