Wonder what Warren Buffett, Steve Forbes and Jay-Z talked about the other day at Omaha's Hollywood Diner?
The result, if not a transcript, will appear when Forbes magazine names the world's 400 richest people, a list that will include at least one of the three — the Omaha investor, 80; the magazine publisher, 63; and the rapper, 40.
In general, it's likely that Forbes and Jay-Z, the stage name of Shawn Corey Carter, talked about some of Buffett's favorite topics: money and philanthropy.
While Forbes and Jay-Z may seem an unlikely pair, Jay-Z's wealth is estimated at $150 million by some sources. That's short of the $900 million or so needed to make the Forbes list but certainly enough to make some high-caliber financial advice worthwhile.
Jay-Z has sold about 40 million albums worldwide, making him one of the most financially successful hip-hop artists, Wikipedia says. He's part owner of the New Jersey Nets of the NBA, has a clothing line and has founded two record companies.
Maybe Jay-Z witnessed Buffett's pop-singing attempt in a Geico video earlier this year. Maybe it was Forbes' idea to bring the two together and see what happens. Maybe Jay-Z got the idea from other celebrities who have sought Buffett's counsel as they begin to think about long-term plans for the money they accumulate.
Whatever the reason or reasons, the get-together reportedly included a visit to the headquarters of Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and a photo shoot in the memorabilia-decorated diner along Abbott Drive.
The visit was supposed to be secret, with cameras and their images kept within Forbes magazine's custody. But word leaked out (how could it not?), and a photo showing Buffett and Jay-Z appeared on VLADTV's website.
An online comment from a VLADTV viewer, playing off Jay-Z's “Brooklyn we go hard” video:
“BROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKLYN rubbing Shoulders with one of the Richest in the world. Gotta luv it!”
Historian Walter Borneman squeezed Buffett onto the last page of “Rival Rails: The Race to Build America's Greatest Transcontinental Railroad” (Random House, 406 pages, $28), no doubt because Berkshire's purchase of BNSF was wrapping up about the same time as the book.
Rail fans may bemoan the mergers that erased names such as Missouri Pacific, Southern Pacific or Santa Fe, Borneman writes, “but the first decade of the 21st century has been incredibly good for railroads.''
“Energy demands for coal, cross-country container shipments, just-in-time deliveries and the strains of higher fuel prices and soaring air congestion have given all railroads greater market share. Even Amtrak has become an increasingly pleasant way to travel.
“And just when it seemed that the days of railroad empire builders like Huntington, Palmer, Strong and Ripley were a thing of the past, financial guru Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway made a bullish bet on America's rails by acquiring the Burlington Northern Santa Fe in 2010.
“Railroads, it seems, still have a very important role to play in American commerce.”
Elsewhere, Gregory White analyzed the “red hot” publicly traded railroad stocks for the Business Insider and concluded that Buffett's BNSF investment has gained, theoretically, $14 billion.
White's reasoning goes like this:
The big four remaining publicly traded railroad stocks — Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway — have gained an average of 32 percent since November.
If BNSF's value increased that much, Buffett's $44 billion investment now would be worth $58 billion. The broader stock market, measured by the Standard & Poors 500 index, has gained 6 percent during that time.
There are blizzards and then there are Blizzards.
A federal judge in California decided that Yogubliz Inc., which has stores in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, can keep selling its Blizzberry and Blizz Frozen Yogurt products.
Judge R. Gary Klausner rejected International Dairy Queen's call for a Blizzban to avoid confusing customers of Dairy Queen's popular Blizzard treats, Reuters reported.
Yogubliz, from Downey, Calif., had said it could go out of business if it lost the case.
Klausner said that while Blizz and Blizzard “do sound alike,” Dairy Queen was unlikely to win its allegations of trademark infringement and unfair competition.
“Products often are marketed under names that are nonsense or invented words,” he wrote. “Thus, like Pez, Pringles or a host of other brand names, it is unclear that Blizz has any independent meaning aside from the product it is attached to.”
But in the world of brand name protection, Dairy Queen, a division of Berkshire, doesn't come away empty.
The very act of going to court to defend a brand name, even if unsuccessful, protects against future attempts to confuse consumers and capitalize on someone else's brand names, putting potential interlopers on notice that you will take action to stop brand abuse.
Nothing is simple in China, even giving away money.
This month's trip to China by Buffett and fellow billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates raised a furor in the international press, reflecting apparent concern that the Americans were somehow going to browbeat China's new wealthy class into making huge U.S.-style donations.
Among the headlines: “Chinese billionaires shun Gates-Buffett's dinner” (Philippines News Agency); “China's billionaires worry dinner with Gates will be costly” (Calgary, Canada, Herald); and “Guess who's not coming to dinner?” (South China Morning Post).
Gates and Buffett tried to put the matter to rest, saying they requested the dinner with 50 or so successful Chinese business people to listen and learn about how philanthropy would work in China, and to respond to questions about their own thinking on the subject.
Sharing experiences, they said, not “selling” philanthropy, was the trip's purpose.
What Buffett and Gates hope for is to some way duplicate the impact of a series of dinners they held with wealthy Americans over the past year or so. Those dinners led to candid discussions about wealth and what to do with it.
Some of those attending opened up their hearts, discussing their families, their futures and their feelings about money and what it can accomplish if properly directed, Buffett has said. From those meetings, Buffett and Gates developed their “Giving Pledge” campaign, soon signing up 40 wealthy families who pledged to give at least half their money to charity.
What will happen after the planned dinner in China remains to be seen.
Chinese near-billionaire ($732 million) Chen Guangbiao, 42, already pledged to donate all his property to charity after his death, in an informal response to the Giving Pledge campaign.
But some Chinese griped that Chen, who owns a resource recycling company, was just showing off for the Americans and trying to win their favor.
Although the Chinese people are traditionally benevolent, charity is not a priority with the wealthy, news stories from Asia say. Some people have increased donations as China's economy and living standards have improved, but having wealth and sharing it are still relatively new in the country.
The Financial Times reported a study by the Charities Aid Foundation that shows China is one of the least likely countries to support donations to charity. The Chinese “do not seem to care much for giving,” and view donating as “more an emotional act than a rational one,” the Times said.
The wealthy in China also worry that their children may not be cared for, given government policies that sometimes don't seem fair. And tax laws don't encourage donations.
To make matters worse, the Straits Times of Singapore reported, those invited to Buffett's dinner worry that they would lose face if they attend and then don't follow up with big donations, and that the source of their wealth would be questioned if they attend.
The Chinese government is said to be stepping up its scrutiny of wealthy people amid reports that up to $1.4 trillion in corrupt “gray income” has been stashed away.
Said Xiao Jin, a charity consultant from Guangzhou, China: “Giving away big money may make people suspicious. China's richest already get labels such as, ‘No person who got rich overnight got his money clean.'”
And you thought students had enough pressure just to get good grades and earn their degrees.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., attached even more importance to the announcement that master's of business administration students from the University of Montana will visit Omaha in March for discussions with Buffett, one of a series he holds each school year to instruct and inspire the next generation of business leaders.
Buffett issued the invitation in conjunction with last week's economic conference in Montana, during which he gave a talk via video and declared that the nation's economy is recovering and won't suffer a double-dip recession.
“Montana business students represent the entrepreneurial future of our state, and giving them the opportunity to learn from one of the world's most successful investors will add incredible value to their education and our state's economic potential,” Baucus said in a later press release.
“The fact that Warren is spending his time contributing to the Montana Economic Development Summit and reaching out to future business leaders at UM paints a promising picture of our economic future.”
In the press release, Buffett said: “The University of Montana's strong commitment to ethics is so important in this day and age. While the most important things in life aren't about money, UM's business plan competition and entrepreneurship programs are preparing these students to be successful and to be competitive.
“UM really has a first-class business school and MBA program. I look forward to meeting these bright students in person.”
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