Munger: 'We failed you' by not investing in Google and Wal-Mart early

Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRK.A) (BRK.B) Warren Buffett, who has historically shied away from investing in technology stocks, was asked by an investor for his views on IBM (IBM) and Apple (AAPL).

Berkshire Hathaway bought IBM’s stock back in 2011. More recently, Buffett has invested heavily in Apple.

Buffett recently revealed to CNBC that he had sold about one-third of his position in IBM, noting that he “revalued” the company downward. He had held just over 81.2 million shares in the company.

Meanwhile, Buffett has continued to beef up his stake in Apple. As of February, he publicly said that they owned 133 million shares. Berkshire began building its stake in the iPhone maker in the first quarter of 2016.

“I regard them as being quite different businesses,” Buffett said during Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders meeting. “They are two different types of decisions and I was wrong on the first one. And we’ll find out whether I was right or wrong on the second. I do not regard them as apples and apples. I don’t regard them as apples and oranges.”

Reflecting on missed tech opportunities

Berkshire’s vice chairman Charlie Munger added that they avoided tech stocks in the past because they felt they had “no advantage where other people did.”

“I think that’s a good idea to not play where the other people are better,” Munger said.

He added that he thought they were “probably smart enough” to figure out Google (GOOG), though.

“I would say that we failed you there,” Munger said. “We were smart enough to do it.”

Buffett explained that Geico was Google’s customer very early on. He added that they were paying $10 or $11 per click.

“That’s a good business,” Buffett said.

Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charlie Munger visits the shareholder shopping day in a golf cart as part of the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting weekend in Omaha, Nebraska, May 5, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Of course, it’s been a learning process, just like they learned with Wal-Mart.

“We blew Wal-Mart too,” Munger said. “It was a total cinch. We were smart enough to figure that.”

Berkshire didn’t invest in Wal-Mart until the second quarter of 2005. In the fourth quarter of 2016, Berkshire sold about 89% of its stake.

“Execution is what counts,” Buffett said.

Buffett acknowledged that they could be making a mistake with IBM.

“It’s harder to predict, in my view, the winners in various items or how much price competition will enter to something like cloud services and all of that.”

He went on to sing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos praises as someone who’s been a big competitor in the space.

“He has been the CEO of two businesses, starting from scratch,” Buffett said. “Andy Grove at Intel used to say, ‘think about if you had a silver bullet and you can shoot one competitor. A lot of people would probably aim that silver bullet at Jeff.”

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Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.