Financial News

Buffett Statement Knocks US Healthcare Costs

When the billionaire investor Warren Buffett speaks, investors around the world listen and his latest shareholder’s letter is no exception.

That’s because the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway did not mentioned corporate conglomerate Johnson & Johnson (J&J) for the first time since 2005.

The letter to shareholders is eagerly anticipated as it lists those firms in which the billionaire has invested at least $1 billion (£667 million) in stock.

This isn’t the first time Mr Buffett has made his feelings felt about the American giant and he was particularly critical in his letter last year of the firm, highlighting patient lawsuits, product recalls and a potential government investigation.

He even went on to a national TV show to say that the healthcare corporation had ‘messed up’ in recent years.

No explanation

Despite the controversies, J&J’s share price has risen in recent months and a company spokesman declined to comment on the firm being omitted from the shareholders’ letter.

Analysts who noticed the lack of a J&J mention soon discovered that Mr Buffett only had a stockholding worth around £15.2 million at the end of 2012.

At one point Mr Buffett and his investment vehicle, Berkshire Hathaway, had shares worth around £1.4 billion in J&J but most of these have been offloaded over the last 12 months.

There was no explanation for the sell-off in the shareholders’ letter and neither did Mr Buffett explain in a TV interview why he was no longer interested in J&J stock.

However, he did go to some lengths to say in the interview that the number one economic problem facing America was the rising cost of its healthcare compared with other industrialised countries which may partly explain why he is no longer interested in J&J.

Coddled wealthy

Alongside the selling of J&J stock last year, Mr Buffett also dispensed with shares in the pharmacy chain CVS Caremark  while buying a stake in DaVita Healthcare Partners Inc which runs kidney dialysis centres around the US.

Mr Buffett also invested money in the Paris-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi-aventis, and in the chemical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

The billionaire is not media-shy and recently hit the headlines when he called for the country’s rich to be taxed more heavily.

He said that anyone earning more than £10 million should be paying 35% in income tax in a move which he said would stop the rich from being ‘coddled’.

Mr Buffett is the world’s fourth richest man, according to Forbes rich list, and he employs more than 250,000 people around the world in industries ranging from ice-cream to insurance.

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