Visiting China and South Korea for the first time, Warren Buffett predicted strong economic futures for both these emerging nations — and the world's most famous investor intends to get a piece of it.
"There's no question that [the Chinese] economy is booming like we haven't seen in the United States for a very, very long time — if ever," Buffett told CNBC.
The purpose of Buffett's visit was to attend the opening of an Iscar plant in Dalian, China, and to visit another Iscar factory in Daegu, South Korea.
Iscar is an Israeli company that produces metal cutting tools. Buffett bought an 80 percent stake in the firm for $4 billion in May of 2006. Until that acquisition, Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett's holding company did not own any foreign firms.
Estimating the eventual size of the Chinese market for cutting tools, Buffett said, "I don’t know how big it will be, but you have all of these companies that use [Iscar's] type of product... It would be crazy not to be here."
As he toured the Iscar factory in Dalian, Buffett remarked on the speed in which the plant was constructed and its automation of almost all functions including labor scheduling and supply chain management.
"There were almost no roadblocks of any kind," Buffett said. "The people worked hard, they got it done fast. The customers want the product and we are going to be supplying it to them."
At the Iscar plant in Daegu, South Korea, Buffett's second stop, he marveled at the cutting-edge technology of the cutting tool factory.
"What I saw in South Korea, and at the new plant that is just developing in China and what I'd earlier seen in Israel, I've never seen in 77 years of life," Buffett said.
"I have never seen a better factory operation than the Iscar people have put together in each of those places. They know as much about manufacturing as anybody I've ever seen."
By several indications it seems Buffett's business ventures in Asia have just begun. The Chinese market gets "bigger by the year," he said.
"We don't sell insurance [in China]," Buffett pointed out. A foreign company "can only own 24.9 percent of an insurance company in China. [But] we're looking into selling insurance there. It's a source of real interest. We would probably have a Chinese partner."
Buffett was obviously impressed with his relatively brief visit to China and South Korea – a mere 56 hours – and this is how he summed up his impression:
"Both of those countries are on the move in an extraordinary way. And even though you read about it, particularly China, it still makes a difference when you see it."
As for investing in Chinese firms under the country's current stock market levels, Buffett said the price of their equities has risen dramatically over the past year, and he was not yet ready to move.
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