Buffett upbeat on US and Berkshire

Still optimistic: A pedestrian walks past a Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices real estate office in California. Buffet retained his trademark optimism for Berkshire, buying back a record US$24.7bil of its stock in 2020 in a sign he considers it undervalued. — Bloomberg

NEW YORK: Not even the coronavirus pandemic could dampen Warren Buffett’s enthusiasm for the future of America and his company Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Buffett used his annual letter to investors to assure he and his successors would be careful stewards of their money, where “the passage of time, an inner calm, ample diversification and a minimisation of transactions and fees” would serve them well.

He also retained his trademark optimism for Berkshire, buying back a record US$24.7bil of its stock in 2020 in a sign he considers it undervalued, and the economy’s capacity to endure “severe interruptions” and enjoy “breathtaking” progress.

“Our unwavering conclusion: Never bet against America, ” he said.

The letter breaks an uncharacteristic silence for the 90-year-old Buffett, who has been almost completely invisible to the public since Berkshire’s annual meeting last May.

“He’s a deep believer in his company and the country, ” said Tom Russo, a partner at Gardner, Russo & Gardner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and long-time Berkshire investor.

But Buffett’s letter also did not specifically mention the coronavirus pandemic, a prime factor behind last year’s loss of more than 31,000 jobs in Berkshire’s workforce, or the recent social upheaval and divisive politics that some companies now address more directly.

“The letter highlighted the innovation and values that have become the backbone of America, and that’s perfectly acceptable, ” said Cathy Seifert, an analyst at CFRA Research with a “hold” rating on Berkshire.

“Given the reverence that investors have for him, the letter was striking for what it omitted, ” she added. “A new generation of investors demands a degree of social awareness, and that companies like Berkshire set out their beliefs, standards and goals.”

Buffett also signalled a long-term commitment to Apple Inc, calling Berkshire’s US$120.4bil stake and its ownership of the BNSF railroad its most valuable assets – “it’s pretty much a toss-up” – after its insurance operations.

Berkshire on Saturday also reported net income of US$35.84bil in the fourth quarter, and US$42.52bil for the year, both reflecting large gains in its stock holdings. — Reuters

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