Monday, May 02, 2005


Warren Buffett on the States' Trade Imbalance

Warren Buffett recently held his periodic Q&A session with the the shareholders of his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. CNN provided an abriged transcript. Here's what Mr. Buffett has to say about the US' trade deficit:
"We're like an incredibly rich family that owns so much land they can't travel to the ends of their domain. And they sit on the front porch and consume a little bit of everything that comes in, all the riches of the land, and they consume roughly 6 percent more than they produce. And they pay for it by selling off land at the edge of the landholdings that can't see. They trade away a little piece every day or take out a mortgage on a piece.

"That scenario couldn't end well. And we, also, keep consuming more than we produce. It can go on a long time. The world has demonstrated a diminishing enthusiasm for dollars in the last few years as they get flooded with them – every day there's $2 billion more going out than in. I have a hard time thinking of any outcome from this that involves an appreciating dollar.

[But, Buffett later added, he is not predicting an end to U.S. economic power.] "If you have a good business in this country that's earning dollars, you'll still do okay. Twenty years from now, a couple percentage points of GDP may go to servicing the deficit, but you'll do fine.... I don't think trade deficits will pull down the whole place; the country will survive those dislocations. I'm not pessimistic about the U.S. at all.... We have over 80 percent of our money tied to the dollar. It's not like we've left the country."

And here's what Warren had to say about the stock market in general:

"If the [stock] market gets cheaper, we will have many more opportunities to do something intelligent with money. We are going to be buying things [like stocks and other financial assets] for as long as I live, just as I'm going to be buying groceries for the rest of my life. Would I rather have grocery prices go up or down?

"The stock market works the same way: If I'm a net buyer, obviously I would rather have prices go down than up. Charlie and I spend no time talking about what the stock market is going to do, because we don't know. We're not operating on basis of a market forecast. We don't make a list of the good things that are happening, or bad things.

"Overall, I'm an enormous bull on the country. This is the most remarkable success story in the history of the world. It does not make sense to bet against America. I do not get pessimistic about the country. The real worry is what can be done by terrorists or governments that may have access to nuclear or other weapons....

"If you had to make a choice between long-term bonds at around 4.5 percent and equities for the next 20 years, I would certainly prefer equities. But if people think they can earn more than 6-7 percent a year, they're making a big mistake. I don't think we're in bubble-type valuations in equities -- or anywhere close to bargain valuations.

"If you told me I had to go away for 20 years, I would rather take an index fund over long-term bonds. You'll get a chance to do something extremely intelligent with your money in the next few years. But right now there doesn't seem to be a clear enough direction to conclude anything dramatic."

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