Warren Buffett is the odd man out in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' stunning $250M purchase of the Washington Post. Why didn’t the Oracle of Omaha, a lover of newspapers buy the paper? That’s the $64,000 question.
Buffett knows the Washington Post Co. inside and out. His Berkshire-Hathaway holding company controls a 23.3 percent stake in WPC.
Warren sat on the WPC board from 1996 to 2011, serving as lead director for a portion of that span. He's a close advisor to Donald Graham, CEO of WPC.
Graham, in telling staffers about the sale of the Post, quoted Buffett as praising Bezos as "the ablest CEO in America."
Buffett has been an active buyer of newspapers. His holdings include the Omaha World-Herald, Buffalo News, Roanoke Times and Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In a letter to shareholders, Buffett wrote: "I love newspapers and, if their economics make sense, will buy them even when they fall far short of the size threshold we would require for the purchase of, say, a widget company. ...At appropriate prices -- and that means at a very low multiple of current earnings -- we will purchase more papers of the type we like."
What's not to like about the leading paper in the nation's capital? The Post would be an impressive flagship of B-H's media empire.
Perhaps, Buffett did not want to get sucked into the political cesspool that is Washington. He did catch some flak from the political right for his support of President Obama.
The Post's shaky finances wouldn't be a headache for Buffett. The Post's $53.7M million operating loss in 2012 isn't a number big enough to keep the billionaire up at night.
Perhaps, Buffett wanted to turn the paper over to the next generation. Warren turns 83 on August 30. Bezos is 49. Both invest for the long-haul. The Washington Post will have a much longer haul under Bezos than Buffett.
All the best, Jeff. The media world says "thanks" and looks forward for other mega-investors to step up to the plate.
Are you listenng, soon-to-be-out-of-office Mayor Mike Bloomberg? There's a world-class daily in New York City that could use a big dose of your financial love.