Warren Buffett Watch: An uplifting celebration of Chinese firm's new plant

BYD Inc. opens a forklift plant with an impressive ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring dragons. The electric vehicle company is 10 percent owned by Berkshire Hathaway.

BYD Inc. knows how to stage a ribbon-cutting.

The Chinese electric vehicle company, which is 10 percent owned by Omaha conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc., recently celebrated opening its battery-powered forklift assembly plant in Shaoguan Industrial Park, in Guangdong province north of Hong Kong.

BYD President Wang Chuanfu invited Shaoguan Municipal Party Secretary Zheng Zhentao and Mayor Yi Xuefeng, along with other local officials and company officers, to a stage decorated with dragons, golden pillars and scarlet ribbons.

Wang said BYD's New Energy forklift — the world's first to use iron batteries — are the future for industrial forklifts, as well as being emission-free and fast-charging. When the batteries wear out, they can be converted to energy storage, BYD said, without the heavy-metal waste of lead-acid batteries.

Iron batteries generate enough power to run forklifts rated at 3.5 tons, the company said, opening new markets for tasks usually performed by forklifts using internal combustion motors.

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BYD plans to produce 20,000 electric forklifts per year, with some sold in Europe.

Essay winner can tap into genius

The winner of an essay contest gets free admission to a university course titled “The Genius of Warren Buffett” this fall in Omaha.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha is offering noncredit admission to the class for the writer of the best 300-word essay on how the course on the Berkshire chairman and CEO will affect the person's career, education and/or life. Buffett author Robert Miles teaches the class through the UNO College of Business Administration's executive MBA program.

Essays are due Aug. 26, with the winner announced Sept. 1. Detailed rules and entry information are on the college's website.

The class, also offered for graduate credit, includes guest lectures by investment managers, Berkshire company managers and a “Buffett family philanthropist,” according to Miles' course outline.

A winner who is enrolled at UNO could attend the class for free or may be eligible for up to four credit hours for completing the coursework, but to receive credits would have to pay regular tuition and fees. A noncredit winner would attend the class for free and receive a “certificate of business excellence.”

Class sessions will be Sept. 13, 14, 27 and 28 and Oct. 11 and 12. Hours are 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays, with catered meals, held at Mammel Hall, 6708 Pine St.

'White knights' for newspapers

Berkshire has been part-owner of the Washington Post Co. for 40 years, so Buffett was a magnet for comments when the Post announced last week it would sell its newspaper division to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250million.

Christopher Williams wrote in the London Daily Telegraph that Bezos' long-term approach to business aligns with Buffett's.

“This is probably a trophy asset, but billionaires aren't normally versed in running low-margin businesses and analyzing consumer behaviour quite like (Bezos),” said Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis. “He may be seen as sent from heaven by some people at the newspaper.”

Agence France Presse said Bezos, Buffett and Boston billionaire John Henry, who is buying the Boston Globe, are among the “deep-pocketed white knights” keeping newspapers “alive as free news on the Internet hijacks readers and erodes profits.”

Ken Doctor of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University said the purchases of the large newspapers “compounds the curiosity of Warren Buffett becoming a small-city newspaper magnate last year. It builds the suspicion that the few remaining people with the stomach to run daily newspapers have bank accounts with at least nine zeros after a non-zero numeral of some kind.”

The Economist quoted Post Chairman Donald Graham as saying the sale was discussed with Buffett, adding, “You can intuit he didn't think it was a wretched idea.”

Doctor noted that Buffett's newspapers are in small and medium-sized markets with strong community ties. “Papers delivering comprehensive and reliable information to tightly bound communities and having a sensible Internet strategy will remain viable for a long time.”

Stephen Gandel, a senior editor for Fortune magazine, wrote that Buffett probably passed on the chance to buy the Post newspaper, even though the price, about $500 per customer, was about what Buffett has been paying for newspapers.

“Earlier in the year, Buffett said he wasn't interested in buying the group of papers owned by the Tribune Co., which includes the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, which appear to be on the block,” Gandel wrote.

“Still, you might have expected Buffett to make an exception for the Washington Post given his long history with the paper. ... It really came down to whether Buffett thought the business of owning one of the most influential papers in the country, with its large staff and taste for expensive investigative stories, is a good business. It appears Buffett's assessment was no.”

Berkshire plan has big backers

Three prominent Nevada Republicans have sent letters to federal regulators about Berkshire's plan to pay $10.1 billion for NV Energy, the Las Vegas utility that would become part of Berkshire's MidAmerican Energy Holdings.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Dean Heller and Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, urging prompt consideration of the sale, with Sandoval expressing outright support.

“So I gather these federal bureaucrats don't look at these deals closely unless a U.S. senator or governor tells them to?” blogged veteran Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston from Las Vegas.

Ralston pointed out that the federal commission is chaired by Nevadan Jon Wellinghoff, whom Reid recommended for the job. The letters are “just in case those folks didn't know that NV Energy and Buffett had friends in high places,” Ralston wrote.

NetJets division flying high

New aircraft and diminished competition are helping the finances of Berkshire's NetJets division, Steve Wartenberg wrote for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.

NetJets is buying 670 new jets, priced at $17.6 billion over the next decade. Berkshire's latest earnings report said sales, reduced financing costs and profit margins are improving at NetJets.

Avantair of Florida ceased operations, the story said, and CitationAir has switched to charter management instead of selling fractional ownership of airplanes like NetJets.

Nationally, business travel in June, compared with a year ago, was up 4.5 percent in small jets and 1.5 percent in midsized jet flights, the story said, with turboprop flights declining.

The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

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