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Buffett’s Berkshire has $116 billion to spend on a deal

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Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is itching to do a massive acquisition, but is having a difficult time due to elevated valuations.

The Oracle of Omaha explained his buying criteria for deals in his 2017 annual letter to shareholders released on Saturday.

“In our search for new stand-alone businesses, the key qualities we seek are durable competitive strengths; able and high-grade management; good returns on the net tangible assets required to operate the business; opportunities for internal growth at attractive returns; and, finally, a sensible purchase price,” he wrote. “That last requirement proved a barrier to virtually all deals we reviewed in 2017, as prices for decent, but far from spectacular, businesses hit an all-time high.”

At year-end last year Berkshire Hathaway had $116 billion in cash and short-term Treasury bills compared to $86.4 billion at the end of 2016, the letter revealed.

“Berkshire’s goal is to substantially increase the earnings of its non-insurance group. For that to happen, we will need to make one or more huge acquisitions. We certainly have the resources to do so,” he wrote. “This extraordinary liquidity earns only a pittance and is far beyond the level Charlie and I wish Berkshire to have. Our smiles will broaden when we have redeployed Berkshire’s excess funds into more productive assets.”

Buffett said Berkshire Hathaway is a big beneficiary of corporate tax reform. The tax overhaul, which President Donald Trump signed into law in December, lowers the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent.

For 2017 the company had a $65 billion gain in its net worth or increase in its shareholder equity.

“The $65 billion gain is nonetheless real – rest assured of that. But only $36 billion came from Berkshire’s operations,” he wrote. “The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the U.S. Tax Code.”

Buffett, 87, added in the letter he will still handle the big acquisition decisions for the company, along with Charlie Munger, 94.

“I’ve saved the best for last. Early in 2018, Berkshire’s board elected Ajit Jain and Greg Abel as directors of Berkshire and also designated each as Vice Chairman. Ajit is now responsible for insurance operations, and Greg oversees the rest of our businesses,” he wrote. “Charlie and I will focus on investments and capital allocation.”

That mention at the end of the letter was the extent of Buffett’s discussion of a succession plan he put in place in January.



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Singapore’s DBS bank on financing coal projects, avoiding ‘greenwashing’

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SINGAPORE — Singapore’s largest bank DBS Group Holdings said it’s not practical to cut off clients with coal exposure in the short term.

DBS on Friday announced that it aims to eliminate thermal coal exposure by 2039.

To get there, DBS will cease taking on new clients that derive more than 25% of their revenue from thermal coal with immediate effect. And from January 2026, the bank will stop financing clients with more than 50% of their revenue from thermal coal — except for their non-thermal coal or renewable energy activities.

Explaining the 50% threshold, DBS Chief Executive Piyush Gupta cited how it’s “impossible” to expect energy majors BP, Exxon Mobil and Shell to reduce their oil business significantly in the next five years.

Piyush Gupta, chief executive officer of DBS Group Holdings.

Bryan van der Beek | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“Similarly the whole bunch of conglomerates that we deal with, for whom coal is one part of their business but they’re increasingly trying to do other stuff, they’re trying to build a renewable business, they’re trying to get into other forms of activities,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Friday.

“For us to say that we won’t deal with any client if your coal is more than 50% of business becomes very hard and that’s just the practical reality. You do want to help them do the other things, you do want to help them build a wind plant, you do want help them continue and diversify their business, you want to help them in the transition,” said Gupta, who’s a member of CNBC’s ESG Council.

Avoiding ‘greenwashing’

Banks globally have come under pressure by shareholders and lobbyists to stop financing coal and play a larger role in promoting sustainability practices among their clients.

Gupta acknowledged that it’s “very hard” to make sure that businesses are not “greenwashing” — a term used to describe giving a misleading impression of green credentials.

Part of the problem is not having a clear framework to measure how companies are living up to their ESG — environmental, sustainability and governance — targets, said the CEO.

ESG is a set of criteria used to measure a company’s performance in areas ranging from carbon emissions to contributions to society and staff diversity.

“The reality is we rely on our clients in many cases to disclose what they’re doing. I can’t physically go to every mine they have around the world, to every plant they have around the world,” he said, adding that DBS also uses third-party consultants to audit and check on its clients.

As attention on ESG practices grows, disclosure standards will likely improve, said Gupta.

“So while there will be greenwashing at the margin, I think the degree of scrutiny is increasing and that will allow people to get more and more comfortable that what is being done is indeed the right stuff,” he said.

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European Super League announces 12 football clubs, 6 from England

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Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool controls the ball during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Anfield on April 14, 2021 in Liverpool, England.

Shaun Botterill | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Twelve of Europe’s leading football clubs have agreed to establish a Super League, despite widespread criticism of the plans.

A statement from the new competition said: “AC Milan, Arsenal, Atlético Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur have all joined as founding clubs.

“It is anticipated that a further three clubs will join ahead of the inaugural season, which is intended to commence as soon as practicable.”

Florentino Pérez, president of Real Madrid and the first chairman of the Super League, said: “We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world. Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”

The project is being launched to rival UEFA’s Champions League format which currently dominates European football and it comes as UEFA was due to sign off on plans for an expanded and restructured Champions League on Monday.

The new Super League has been criticized by politicians, such as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, as well as former players such as Gary Neville.

Mr Johnson said the new league would “strike at the heart of the domestic game, and will concern fans across the country.”

He added: “The clubs involved must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps.”

Sir Keir said the plans had ignored the fans, adding: “Football in empty stadiums hasn’t been the same over the last year. I can’t wait to get back to games. But this proposal risks shutting the door on fans for good, reducing them to mere spectators and consumers.

“The clubs involved in this proposal should rethink immediately. And if they don’t, they should face the consequences of their actions. Because football without fans is nothing.”

Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville told Sky Sports: “I’m not against the modernisation of football competitions, we have the Premier League, the Champions League, but I think to bring forward proposals in the midst of COVID and the economic crisis for all clubs is an absolute scandal.

“United and the rest of the ‘Big Six’ that have signed up to it against the rest of the Premier League should be ashamed of themselves.”

Neville added: “They should deduct six points off all six teams that have signed up to it. Deduct points off them all. To do it during a season? It’s a joke.”

UEFA, the FA, and the Premier League are among others to have expressed opposition, saying in a joint statement that they “remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project”, adding: “We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this.

“This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”

The English FA said: “We would not provide permission to any competition that would be damaging to English football, and will take any legal and/or regulatory action necessary to protect the broader interests of the game.”

The Super League competition will see 20 participating clubs – 15 founding clubs and a further five teams able to qualify annually based on their achievements during the previous season.

It will begin in August with clubs participating in two groups of 10, playing home and away fixtures, some during the week, with the top three in each group qualifying for the quarter-finals.

Teams finishing fourth and fifth will compete in a two-legged play-off for the remaining quarter-final spots before a knockout format is used to reach the final at the end of May, which will be staged as a single fixture at a neutral venue.

Club players will be able to continue competing in their national leagues and, as soon as possible after the men’s competition begins, a women’s league will also be launched.

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Bitcoin tumbles from recent high as cryptocurrencies take weekend hit

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The price of bitcoin tumbled over the weekend and was down as much as 19.5% from record highs posted by the popular cryptocurrency in the past week.

Bitcoin dropped as low as $52,148.98 on Sunday morning after reaching an all-time high above $64,800 on Wednesday, according to CoinDesk. It was last trading just over $55,795.

Other cryptocurrencies, including ether and dogecoin, also took a hit over the weekend. The price of ether, the second-biggest token by market value, dropped as much as 18% and fell below $2,000 on Sunday before more recently trading at over $2,150. The token had also recently hit record highs, topping $2,500 on Thursday.

Meanwhile, dogecoin, which soared more than 400% at one point last week and hit an all-time high of 45 cents, dropped as low as 24 cents this weekend.

What exactly is driving the drop is unclear.

An unverified report on Twitter claimed that the U.S. Treasury Department could be looking to crack down on financial institutions for money laundering using cryptocurrency.

A tweet from the account @Fxhedgers that referred to the possibility of a crackdown, citing unnamed sources, went viral on Saturday evening.

The U.S. Treasury Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The cryptocurrencies hit record highs this past week amid the excitement surrounding the stock market debut of cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase, which became the largest cryptocurrency company to go public on Wednesday. The company’s blockbuster direct listing briefly valued Coinbase at about $100 billion (before falling to just over $62 billion by the end of the week), giving a boost to the rest of the cryptocurrency industry.

Despite those record prices, some investors have been concerned that cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are experiencing a bubble. The recent spike by dogecoin, which started as a joke based on the 2013 “Doge” meme, in particular, has fueled concerns of a bubble in the cryptocurrency market.



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