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Munger diverges from Buffett on Wells Fargo: 'Warren got disenchanted'

Ethan Wolff-Mann
·Senior Writer
·2 min read
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Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) recently trimmed its position in Wells Fargo (WFC) by 58% in a sale of 74.95 million shares. And at the Daily Journal annual meeting, Berkshire’s long-time vice chairman Charlie Munger spoke about the bank — and his partner Warren Buffett’s views.

“Warren got disenchanted with Wells Fargo,” Munger said.

Munger, who is also executive chair of the Daily Journal (DJCO), a tech and publishing company, fielded questions at the company’s annual meeting Wednesday on everything from bitcoin to the GameStop frenzy to Wells Fargo.

The Daily Journal also has a sizable amount of stocks on its balance sheet, including Wells Fargo. Munger was asked why Berkshire has rapidly sold its Wells Fargo position while the Daily Journal has not.

“I don’t think it’s required we be the same on everything,” Munger said of Berkshire and the Daily Journal’s portfolios. One reason he gave for differences: “We have different tax considerations.”

Munger waded back into the 2016 Wells Fargo scandal, when it was revealed the company created many accounts in customers' names without their permission to meet internal targets as well as other poor incentives in the wealth management business.

“There’s no question about the fact Wells Fargo has disappointed long-term investors like Berkshire,” said Munger. The 97-year-old billionaire blamed the “old management,” but said they were not “consciously malevolent or thieving but had terrible judgment in creating a culture of cross-selling.”

Warren Buffett (L), CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and vice chairman Charlie Munger attend the 2019 annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, May 3, 2019. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)
Warren Buffett (L), CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and vice chairman Charlie Munger attend the 2019 annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, May 3, 2019. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

All of this, he said, was a “big error of judgment that was, of course, regrettable,” that eventually led to Buffett’s disappointment with the bank.

But Munger explained that he differed with Buffett with respect to the company, which might provide the answer to the shareholder’s specific question about the Daily Journal keeping the bank’s stock.

“I think I’m a little more lenient,” Munger said, comparing himself to Buffett. “I expect less out of bankers than he does.”

“The trouble with banking is we have more banks than bankers,” he continued. “The kind of executives that have a Buffett-like mindset that never get in trouble are a minority group.”

“There’s a lot of temptation to do dumb things, which will make the earnings next quarter go up, but are bad for the long term,” he said. “Some bankers yield to the temptations.”

Still, Munger said, “I do think a properly run bank is good for civilization.”

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.