Warren Buffett’s live appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box yesterday generated some headlines as he said single-family houses are a bargain right now. See below for an excerpt from the show. What do you think?
BECKY QUICK, co-host: Do you still think that this is a great time to be buying stocks?
WARREN BUFFETT: Well, stocks are businesses and the question is you have to invest in something. If you get your money in your wallet, it’s invested. It’s just invested at zero. And, unfortunately, if you got your money in a bank these days, it’s invested at zero. Or if you have it in Treasury bills, it’s invested at zero. I’ve got a section in the report where I say that if held over a long period of time, there’s no question in my mind that equities generally, a diversified group of leading companies, is going to outperform, in my view, dramatically, paper money or nonproductive assets such as gold. That’s no forecast for the next three months or six months or a year, but it— I think it’s obvious that owning really first-rate productive businesses— and there’s hundreds of them— you just— you know, you get a compound over time. They either pay the money out to you, they reinvest it, they buy in shares so that your ownership interest goes up. So equities are still cheap relative to any other asset class.
BECKY: But they’re not…
BUFFETT: I would say the single-family homes are cheap now, too.
BECKY: You would?
BUFFETT: Yeah, single-family homes— but if I had a way of buying a couple hundred thousand single-family homes and had a way of managing— the management is enormous— is really the problem because they’re one by one. They’re not like apartment houses. So— but I would load up on them and I would— I would take mortgages out at very, very low rates. But if anybody is thinking about buying a home— five years ago they couldn’t buy them fast enough because they thought they were going to go up, and now they don’t buy them because they think they’re going to go down. And interest are far lower. It’s a way, in effect, to short the dollar because you can— you can take a 30-year mortgage and if it turns out your interest rate’s too high, next week you refinance lower. And if it turns out it’s too low, the other guy’s stuck with it for 30 years. So it’s a very attractive asset class now.
BECKY: If you are a young individual investor at home and you have your choice between buying your first home or investing in stocks, where would you tell someone is the better bet?
BUFFETT: Well, if I thought I was going to live— if I knew where I was going to want to live the next five or 10 years I would— I would buy a home and I’d finance it with a 30-year mortgage, and it’s a terrific deal. And if I— literally, if I was an investor that was a handy type, which I’m not, and I could buy a couple of them at distressed prices and find renters, I think that’s— and again take a 30-year mortgage, it’s a leveraged way of owning a very cheap asset now and I think that’s probably as an attractive an investment as you can make now. But I think equities are very attractive compared to anything else.
BECKY: Warren, we touched on this in the last hour, but just the idea, you bring up that the stock market has doubled over the last three years when we’ve been sitting here and again, there are many people who now worry that the best and easiest gains are over. You said yourself in the last hour that it’s not springtime anymore.
BECKY: Does that change what people — the way that people should be looking at the stock market as a potential investment?
BUFFETT: They should be looking at the funds they’re going to save. I mean, that’s the — those are the only funds you save that you invest with, and figure out what’s the best thing to do with them. And they can buy farmland, they can buy apartment houses, they can buy duplexes, they can buy businesses, they can buy businesses through stocks, they can buy rare stamps, they can buy gold or they can stick it in money market accounts and all. They’ve always got all those options. And I’ve written a section in the annual report why I think that businesses are the best option. Now the nice thing about businesses is in this country is you can buy into all the best businesses in the United States, virtually. You can buy a piece of them and you don’t have to buy, you know, if you don’t understand company XYZ, you can buy company ABC. And naturally, it would be like — nicer to buy them at the prices of three years ago.
BUFFETT: But you know, they are attractive relative to other assets. That doesn’t mean they’re going to go up, but I will guarantee you that over a 20 or 30 year period, they’re going to perform very well. And as I mentioned a little earlier, actually single family houses bought on a distressed basis now and financed over a long term at these interest rates may be the best investment of all. I mean, if I knew anything about real estate and I just was working with a relatively small amount of money and I was seeing distressed houses around me that I could rent out, I would buy them and put on an 80 — a 4 percent mortgage for 30 years and you know, I — three or four or five years, I’d probably sell it at a very substantial profit relative to my equity.