The Buffett Angle on Coke's Kent
The Financial Times is generating some buzz with an interview with Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, in which Mr. Kent says that China is "in many respects" an easier place to do business than America and said the U.S. "owes itself to architect or create or a 21st century tax policy for both individuals as well as for businesses."
I couldn't quite tell from the FT article if Mr. Kent is agreeing or disagreeing with Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway is Coke's largest institutional shareholder, with 200 million shares, $13.4 billion worth, or nearly 9% of the company at last report. Mr. Buffett is a former Coke director, and his son Howard G. Buffett now sits on the Coke board.
The video interview on the FT site sheds some light. Mr. Kent calls for simplification, complaining, "it's so complicated." Solving Mr. Buffett's complaint about his secretary with a "Buffett rule" or new bracket for "millionaires and billionaires" would only make things more complex, so it sure looks as though Mr. Kent is disagreeing with Mr. Buffett.
Says Mr. Kent: "To all governments that are looking to increase taxes, the best method is ensuring that businesses remain healthy so that they can collect more revenue as a result of the health of these businesses and the growth. Growth is the key." Again, it sure sounds like Mr. Kent is disagreeing with Mr. Buffett, who, when he talks about taxes, emphasizes "fairness" rather than growth.
It's almost enough to add Mr. Kent to the list that includes Harvey Golub, a list of CEOs of companies in which Mr. Buffett invested who disagree with Mr. Buffett about taxes.
I wish the FT interviewer had asked Mr. Kent more explicitly and directly what he thought of the Buffett rule. One point Mr. Kent stressed involved lowering corporate taxes on repatriated profits from abroad. If Mr. Buffett benefits via his Coke stake on a corporate tax repatriation holiday that is being pressed by Mr. Kent, the value to him of that could far exceed whatever tiny tax increase he would see as the result of the "Buffett rule."
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