By Lisa Baertlein and Jonathan Stempel
| LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK Charlie Munger, the billionaire vice chairman of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N), said some of U.S. President Donald Trump's ideas may prove constructive for the country, tempering comments a year ago suggesting that his fellow Republican was not morally qualified for the White House."Well, I've gotten more mellow," Munger said during Wednesday's annual meeting at the publishing company Daily Journal Corp (DJCO.O) in Los Angeles, which he chairs."He's not wrong on everything," said Munger, referring to Trump. "Just roll with it. If there's a little danger, what the hell, you're not going to live forever anyway."Munger, 93, spoke for nearly two hours to investors and students on a wide range of issues.He has been Buffett's right-hand man for decades, helping the 86-year-old build Berkshire into a roughly $410 billion conglomerate with more than 90 companies including insurers, utilities, food producers and a railroad.Berkshire also has large investments in dozens of stocks, including iPhone maker Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and the four biggest U.S. carriers: American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O), Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N), Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) and United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL.N).On Tuesday, Berkshire revealed multi-billion-dollar stakes in all five companies, marking a reversal of its longstanding aversion to the technology sector and antipathy to the "joke" that Munger said airlines once were.
Berkshire is now Apple's fifth-largest investor, and the largest or second largest investor in the four airlines."The nice thing about the game we're in is that we can keep learning," Munger said."He's changed when he's buying airlines, and he's changed when he's buying Apple," he said of Buffett."I don't think we've gone crazy," Munger added. "I think we're adapting."
Munger downplayed the impact of the recent scandal afflicting Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N), in which Berkshire is the largest investor with a roughly 10 percent stake.Wells Fargo was caught flat-footed by the public outcry after it settled regulatory charges that workers created as many as 2 million sham customer accounts to meet sales goals. The scandal cost longtime Chief Executive John Stumpf his job.Munger said the bigger problem for Wells Fargo was not its sales culture, but how it reacted.
"The mistake there was that when the bad news came, they didn't recognize it," Munger said. "I don't think that impairs the future of Wells Fargo."He was less definitive about the outlook of another big Berkshire holding, American Express Co (AXP.N), saying people would be in a "state of delusion" for thinking they could project the state of the payments system in a decade.Munger also defended his earlier faulting of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc's (VRX.TO) business practices, including the Canadian drug company's model of acquiring rights to drugs and driving prices higher.Criticism and regulatory probes have caused Valeant's growth plan to unravel, and its share price to plunge more than 93 percent in a year-and-a-half."It was really interesting how many high-grade people that took in," Munger said. "It was too good to be true." (Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles, and Jennifer Ablan and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)
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Published Date: Feb 16, 2017 03:15 AM | Updated Date: Feb 16, 2017 03:15 AM