By Josh Funk
Sunday, May 3, 2009
OMAHA, May 2 -- Billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett spent Saturday praising the decisions U.S. officials made to try to right the economy in the midst of a "financial hurricane" and defending the ones he made to help his company navigate the storm.
The state of the economy and his company Berkshire Hathaway's recent performance were among the first things addressed at Berkshire's annual shareholders' meeting. About 35,000 people packed an arena to listen to Buffett and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charles T. Munger answer questions for five hours.
"Overall, I commend the actions that were taken," Buffett said regarding the administration's response. But he said no one should expect perfection because the economy experienced a "financial hurricane." Buffett said he can't predict how quickly the economy and the markets will improve.
Berkshire, which has seen succession at the top, last year had its worst performance since Buffett took over in 1965.
Berkshire's Class A stock lost 32 percent in 2008, and Berkshire's book value -- assets minus liabilities -- declined 9.6 percent, to $70,530 per share. That was only the second time it had declined.
Berkshire reported a 2008 profit of $4.99 billion, or $3,224 per Class A share. That was down 62 percent from the previous year.
Buffett said Berkshire will report an operating profit of about $1.7 billion in the first quarter. That's down from $1.9 billion a year earlier. Operating profit does not include gains and losses on investments and derivatives, which have had a significant impact on the company's reported profits in recent quarters.
Buffett is a director of The Washington Post Co.