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Buffett records worst results in almost 20 years

February 25,2019

   
   

Warren Buffett on Saturday appeared to fault US President Donald Trump for taking too much credit for the nation’s economic growth, while acknowledging that market conditions are making it tough for his Berkshire Hathaway Inc to find more big companies to buy.

Buffett lamented these states of affairs in his widely read annual letter to Berkshire shareholders.

Accompanying the letter was more bad news that sinking stock prices and a big writedown for the company’s Kraft Heinz Co investment fueled a US$25.39 billion fourth-quarter net loss, and caused Berkshire to post its lowest annual profit since 2001.

But many of Berkshire’s more than 90 businesses, such as the Geico auto insurer and BNSF railroad, performed well, and quarterly operating profit rose 71 percent.

Buffett uses his shareholder letters to focus on Berkshire’s operating businesses, tout the strength of the US economy and criticize thinking and business practices that get in the way.

The 88-year-old said Berkshire’s success has been in part a product of “the American tailwind” that has enabled the country to enjoy “almost unbelievable prosperity.”

He said that since he began investing in 1942, that prosperity has been overseen by seven Republican and seven Democratic presidents, through times of war and financial crisis, and gained in a bipartisan manner.

Trump often takes credit for upbeat news on the economy and stock market, sometimes tying them to his economic policies.

Buffett said no one person should claim credit when things go well.

“It is beyond arrogance for American businesses or individuals to boast that they have ‘done it alone,’” Buffett wrote.

Buffett also made a possible oblique criticism of Trump’s bragging about US economic performance, including relative to other countries such as China, where Berkshire invests in electric carmaker BYD Co.

The United States, according to Buffett, should “rejoice” when other countries have bright futures.

“Americans will be both more prosperous and safer if all nations thrive,” he wrote. “At Berkshire, we hope to invest significant sums across borders.”

The White House was not immediately available for comment. Berkshire did not immediately respond for comment.

Thomas Russo, a partner at Gardner Russo & Gardner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and longtime Berkshire investor, said: “It sent an extraordinarily strong message about how open markets and free trade end up helping all participants do better.”

Part of the reason Buffett may be looking to invest abroad is that he is struggling to find big investments at home, and does not expect that to change soon.

Berkshire has not make a major acquisition since paying US$32.1 billion for aircraft parts maker Precision Castparts in January 2016. Buffett said near-term prospects for more acquisitions were “not good,” because prices are “sky-high” for businesses that had decent long-term prospects.

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