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‘Chevron’s not an evil company in the least’

Billionaire investing legend Warren Buffett on Saturday rebuked environmental concerns over the company’s $4.1 billion stake in Chevron (CVX), saying the oil giant benefits society and criticizing advocates on either extreme of corporate sustainability as “nuts.”

“Chevron is not an evil company in the least and I have no compunction about owning Chevron,” Buffett said at the 2021 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting live streamed exclusively on Yahoo Finance. “If we owned the entire business, I would not feel uncomfortable about being in that business.”

“I think Chevron has benefitted societies in all kinds of ways, and I think it will continue to,” he adds.

Major institutional shareholders have put forward two proposalscalling on Berkshire Hathaway to disclose information each year about the company’s progress in mitigating its climate impact and addressing diversity and inclusion. But Buffett has urged shareholders to vote against the proposals.

Instead, Buffett has left decisions about corporate responsibility to the company’s dozens of operating businesses, among them household names like Kraft Heinz (KHC) and GEICO Auto Insurance.

‘People that are on the extremes of both sides are a little nuts’

The question about Chevron focused especially on hydrocarbons, the compounds that make up the basis of fossil fuels like crude oil and coal.

“I would say that people that are on the extremes of both sides are a little nuts,” Buffett says. “I’d hate to have all the hydrocarbons banned in three years… and on the other hand, what’s happening [with climate change] will be adapted to.”

A cutout of Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett welcomes Berkshire shareholders to the Coca Cola exhibit at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb., Friday, May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

“I don’t like making the moral judgments on stocks in terms of actually running the businesses,” he adds. “There’s something about every business that [if] you knew what, you wouldn’t like,” he says.

“If you expect perfection in your spouse or your friends or in companies, you’re not going to find it,” he says.  

Berkshire Hathaway announced in February that it had taken the significant stake in Chevron, along with an $8.6 billion stake in Yahoo Finance parent company Verizon (VZ).

Berkshire Hathaway also owns nearly 10% of outstanding shares in beverage giant Coca-Cola (KO), which last month joined an uproar of corporate backlash over a restrictive voting bill enacted in Georgia. 

On March 31, 72 Black business leaders signed a public letter that criticized the voting law enacted in Georgia six days prior. The missive prompted Georgia-based companies Coca-Cola and Delta (DAL) to condemn the law amid intense public pressure.

Hundreds of major companies — including Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG, GOOGL), and BlackRock (BLK) — signed a statement last month opposing “any discriminatory legislation” that would make it more difficult for people to vote. Warren Buffett signed the letter on his own behalf, but Berkshire Hathaway did not join the list of corporate backers.

“I don’t believe in imposing my political opinions on the activities of our businesses,” Buffett said at Berkshire’s 2018 shareholder meeting.

Today, Berkshire Hathaway owns over 60 companies, like Geico and Dairy Queen, plus minority stakes in Apple (AAPL) and many others. Buffett holds a net worth of $102.8 billion, and has vowed to give away nearly all of it.

In response to a question about the company’s stake in Chevron, Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger acknowledged that he and Buffett do not know how climate change — and corporate America’s response — will take shape in the coming years. 

But Munger questioned whether environmental advocates know any better than they do.

“I don’t know we know the answer to all these questions about global warming,” Munger says. “The people who ask the questions think they know the answer. We’re just more modest.”

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