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Buffett Eyes India for Investment Opportunities

  • Anjana Pasricha

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett gestures at a press conference in New Delhi, India, March 24, 2011.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett gestures at a press conference in New Delhi, India, March 24, 2011.

American investor Warren Buffett says he is looking at investment opportunities in India. The world’s third richest man, who has given away most of his fortune, has also expressed optimism that philanthropy will increase in India.

Warren Buffet’s first-ever visit to India this week was packed with high profile meetings attended by top industry leaders, Indian billionaires and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Big market

Buffett, famed for his skills in identifying lucrative investments, said that in recent years, he is seeing more investment opportunities beyond the United States. He says he considers India a logical place to look and hopes to spend some money here.

Buffett says he would not classify India as an emerging market, but a very big market.

"We need to invest billions of dollars, and that is very tough in many emerging countries, they just are not that large," Buffet said. "We tend to look at larger countries, in India, China, Brazil, United Kingdom, Germany, you name it, those all fit us."

His parent company, Berkshire Hathaway, made its first investment in India earlier this month in the insurance sector when it agreed to become a corporate agent for Indian insurance company, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance.

Buffett says restrictions on foreign ownership of up to 26 percent in the insurance sector in India could act as a deterrent to investment.

Berkshire Hathaway had $38 billion in cash and cash equivalents at the end of 2010 for investment, and Indian businesses hope to attract some of that capital to their country.

Good for everyone

Buffet dismissed fears that the growing economies of India and China present any sort of threat to the United States. He says more trade is good for everyone.

"The more India prospers or China prospers, the more the United States is going to prosper over the long term, and there are people in every country that resist that idea, whether it is the United States or you name it around the world, but I think they have been shown to be wrong by economic history and I think they will continue to be shown wrong," he said.

Meeting of the rich

Buffett, along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, also held a closed-door meeting with about 70 of India’s richest men for what was termed a "giving discussion." The two men have donated much of their wealth to charity and hope to nudge other billionaires to do the same.

Although no firm pledges were announced after the meeting, Buffett called the meeting productive. He said people "drew strength and conviction from hearing others talk" and expressed confidence that there will be increases in India in the percentages going to philanthropy over the next decade.

In a country where 450 million people live in poverty, about 50 billionaires account for a staggering 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. But India’s super rich have often attracted criticism for earmarking only tiny amounts for philanthropic activities, and not doing enough for charitable causes.