Here Are Three Tough Questions I'd Ask Warren Buffett If I Won Lunch with Him

If you're lonely, in dire need of a lunch date, or just happen to have a few million dollars lying around, you could try your luck at scoring lunch with the most successful investor in history.

The "Have Lunch with Warren Buffett" auction is this week, and the bid is expected to reach as high as $3 million when all is said and done. Instead of being a meaningless opportunity for rich people to throw money around, the auction raises money for GLIDE, Buffett's late wife's favorite charity, which is geared toward serving San Francisco's homeless population.

Some pretty cool things have happened to those who bid for the meal. Ted Weschler, for example, paid about $5.3 million total to win the auction two years in a row. He now picks stocks and manages over $10 billion at Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.A).

I have to admit, it would be cool to have lunch with Warren Buffett. I would even pick up the tab for his signature steak and hash browns at Smith & Wollensky or any other steakhouse of his choosing.

But as great a cause as GLIDE is, I would never pony up the kind of money these rich Buffettologists are paying just to say they had lunch with their idol.

Yes, Warren Buffett is still the most successful investor and businessman in American history. He and right-hand man Charlie Munger have transformed Berkshire from an investment firm into an enormous collection of businesses. Very few people on the planet could make that transition with the same level of success.

Although I won't shell out $3 million to share a steak lunch, I've long been brewing over many questions I'd ask him if I had the chance.

And I have three questions that honestly may come off as a bit crass.

But they all concern issues that the Oracle of Omaha needs to get straight, for the sake of individual investors like us...

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Three Questions That Might Make Warren Buffett Sweat at the Lunch Table

Question No. 1 would have to do with the stock market's overall valuation.

I would ask him...

How likely is it that interest rates will stay low long enough for stocks at current prices to yield meaningful returns?

In the past, Buffett has identified the stock market cap-to-GDP ratio as a strong valuation indicator.

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And right now, the ratio is approaching levels not seen since before the dot-com bust, clearly showing an overheated market...

Warren Buffett

He also said recently that if interest rates remain low, then stocks are deeply undervalued and we will regret not buying equities at current levels. Sure, interest rates are on the rise, but they're still near historical lows compared to the last 30 years.

Put the two together and it seems like Warren is saying the market is overvalued, yet stocks are undervalued. That's certainly something I'd want to clarify with him over a medium-rare steak.

Piggybacking off of that, Part B of Question No. 1 would be...

If you think rates will stay low long enough for stock purchases to pay big returns, why are you still sitting on $100 billion in cash?

Buffett's $100 billion hoard of cash has been his biggest source of agony recently. There are plenty of deals being discussed across the media, transportation, insurance, and energy industries - all areas where Berkshire has some experience.

However, frugality is arguably his most notable trait, and he's extremely selective when it comes to spending Berkshire's money on acquisitions. He has consistently said that prices just aren't attractive right now.

But then again, as I just mentioned, he's also said lower rates have made stocks inexpensive. It seems like Buffett urges individual investors to buy at current prices when he isn't interested in doing that himself. The same goes for index investing, which he repeatedly recommends despite never doing so when he was a young man trying to get rich.

That brings me to Question No. 2...

Are you telling us to do what you say and not what you do?

His strategy has always been different than the one he touts to his cult of followers. For his entire career, he's been a crash-and-crisis buyer - a strategy that's clearly paid off in spades.

Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) showed up out of nowhere on Berkshire's 1988 securities list almost immediately following the crash and the New Coke debacle. Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) made its appearance on the 1991 list right as the savings and loan crisis caused a huge sell-off in bank stocks.

Indexing was a fantastic strategy to preach if you were buying in 2002 or 2009, but it devastated those who bought in 1999 and watched their net worth get halved twice while compiling a pathetic long-term return of about 5%. It only works if you're 25 and have decades ahead of you to see returns close to the historical average.

As for older folks who visit the doctor more than once a year, we need to do something a lot different if we want to make sizable profits.

My final two-part Question No. 3 is about reading...

What have you read that has had the most influence on your success? What should I be reading every day?

Charlie Munger once said, "In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn't read all the time - none, zero. You'd be amazed at how much Warren reads - and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I'm a book with a couple of legs sticking out."

Buffett himself once said that reading was the key to his success, saying that knowledge "builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it."

Knowing that would be much more valuable than knowing what stocks Berkshire bought last quarter or what Warren thinks of index investing.

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About the Author

Tim Melvin is an unlikely investment expert by any measure. Raised in the "projects" of Baltimore by a single mother, he never attended college and started out as a door-to-door vacuum salesman. But he knew the real money was in the stock market, so he set sights on investing - and by sheer force of determination, he eventually became a financial advisor to millionaires. Today, after 30 years of managing money for some of the wealthiest people in the world, he draws on his experience to help investors find "unreasonably good" bargain stocks, multiply profits, and build their nest eggs. Tim tirelessly works to find overlooked "hidden gems" in the stock market, drawing on the research of legendary investors like Benjamin Graham, Walter Schloss, and Marty Whitman. He has written and lectured extensively on the markets, with work appearing on Benzinga, Real Money, Daily Speculations, and more. He has published several books in the "Little Book of" Investment Series and a "Junior Chamber Course" geared towards young adults that teaches Graham's principles and techniques to a new generation of investors. Today, he serves as the Special Situations Strategist at Money Morning and the editor of Peak Yield Investor.

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