First a bit of background. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway holding company owns South San Francisco, Calif.-based See's Candies. Buffett is also a longtime proponent of what he calls competitive advantage "moats" as an investment strategy.
During his much-dissected Tesla quarterly earnings call last week, Musk trashed the idea, saying, "I think moats are lame," according to Forbes. "They are like nice in a sort of quaint, vestigial way. If your only defense against invading armies is a moat, you will not last long. What matters is the pace of innovation, that is the fundamental determinant of competitiveness."
Then on Saturday, at Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb., Buffett was asked about Musk's comment. The investor titan acknowledged that technological innovation made moats more vulnerable, but he still finds plenty of value in the concept. Buffett often cites See's Candies as a prime example because of its loyal customer base, which he says makes it tough for rivals to steal away market share.
"Certainly you should be working on improving your own moat and defending your own moat all the time," Buffett said. "And Elon may turn things upside down in some areas. I don't think he'd want to take us on in candy. There are some pretty good moats around."
Musk wasn't in attendance at the annual meeting but quickly caught word of the comments and took to Twitter, where he joked (we think?) about starting a candy company. And things, as they often do with Musk and his Twitter account, quickly spiraled into the absurd.
Musk went on to joke about "Cryptocandy," an apparent reference to Buffett's dim views on cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and to building a candy-filled moat as "Berkshire Hathaway kryptonite." If nothing else, the whole thing is an interesting juxtaposition of reserved and time-tested old-economy captain of industry versus brash upstart Silicon Valley disruptor.
I am super super serious— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 5, 2018
Then I'm going to build a moat & fill it w candy. Warren B will not be able to resist investing! Berkshire Hathaway kryptonite ...— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 6, 2018
In a follow-up interview Sunday with Yahoo Finance, Charlie Munger, Buffett's partner and vice chairman of the firm, called Musk "bold and brilliant" and added, "I haven't the faintest idea how Elon Musk will turn out, but he has a considerable chance of success and considerable chance of failure. He seems to like it that way."
Saying you like "moats" is just a nice way of saying you like oligopolies— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 6, 2018
Munger also said he hadn't heard about Musk's tweets but added that it "Sounds like wise-assery. I can't criticize anybody else for wise-assery."
Berkshire Hathaway reported a net loss of $1.1 billion in the first quarter related to a new accounting change. It was the conglomerate's first quarterly loss since 2009. Tesla, meanwhile, reported its largest-ever quarterly loss last week of $709.6 million as it struggles to ramp up Model 3 production.