Bloomberg News

Buffett Says Obama Faces Wall Street That ‘Doesn’t Feel Loved’

October 03, 2011

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor, said Wall Street bankers don’t believe they’ve been embraced by President Barack Obama and are consequently withholding their support.

“Wall Street certainly doesn’t feel loved,” Buffett told Charlie Rose in a Sept. 30 interview broadcast on PBS. “I think there was some rhetoric that contributed to that.”

Buffett, 81, is seeking to draw backers for Obama’s re- election and planned to attend a fundraiser for the president last week in New York. Obama has been accused of “class warfare” by Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner for seeking to close the deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy. Obama has asked Congress to enact a so-called Buffett rule, requiring those earning $1 million or more a year to pay taxes at a rate similar to that of middle-income Americans.

“You take the number of people making a million dollars or over on Wall Street and you can fill a very large auditorium,” Buffett said. “I think the president felt, ‘My God, look at all the things we did for business, and they’re unappreciative, and I’m all that stands between them and the pitchforks.’”

Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., did at least five television interviews Sept. 30 on topics ranging from Berkshire’s investments and Bank of America Corp.’s struggles to politics and Europe’s debt crisis.

Berkshire added about $4 billion in common stock to its investments during the third quarter, Buffett said in a Bloomberg Television interview. That compares with $3.4 billion in the second quarter and was the most since Omaha, Nebraska- based Berkshire plowed a net $3.6 billion into stocks during the third quarter of 2008, the height of the global credit crisis.

‘Ready to Buy’

“We’re ready to buy lots of things,” Buffett said in the interview with Betty Liu on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Berkshire’s program to purchase its own stock “won’t keep us from investing billions and billions and billions in plants and equipment, in new acquisitions.”

Berkshire, which had a $67.6 billion equity portfolio as of June 30, announced its stock-buyback plan Sept. 26. It is the firm’s first repurchase in four decades.

“If the market is weak, we could buy a lot of stock,” Buffett told Charlie Rose, according to a transcript of the interview. “We’ll buy the stock if we think we’re doing a favor for the people that are staying in the boat.”

Berkshire is focusing on stocks after its cash hoard swelled and interest rates remained near record lows. Equities markets around the world fell during the third quarter amid speculation that Europe will fail to contain its sovereign debt crisis and that the U.S. economy will weaken.

Bank of America

Buffett, who invested $5 billion in Bank of America, said that troubles at the biggest U.S. lender by assets will take “much longer” to clean up.

“The bank has a wonderful underlying business -- it’s got lots of problems,” Buffett told Liu in the interview.

“The bet is, is Brian going to get rid of those problems?” Buffett said, referring to Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan, 51. “It won’t take six months or a year; it will take much longer than that even. But the underlying business is doing fine.”

Bank of America, which has lost more than half its market value this year as mortgage-related costs climb, pays Berkshire $300 million annually in preferred stock dividends and gave the company warrants to purchase 700 million shares of common stock for $7.14 each. The deal was announced on Aug. 25, two weeks after Moynihan said his firm had enough capital.

Moynihan, who has been in charge of the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank since the start of 2010, should be given time to turn the firm around, Buffett said.

European Debt Crisis

Berkshire sold most of its European sovereign-debt holdings about a year and a half ago, the billionaire said in an interview with CNBC. The firm isn’t interested in helping to bail out lenders on the continent, he said.

“They need capital in their banks, in many of their banks,” Buffett said in the Bloomberg interview. “We would not be a good prospect,” he said, adding that Berkshire has received “very, very few” calls about putting capital into European banks.

A German reinsurance unit still holds some bonds from that nation, and Berkshire is “fine” with the investment, he said. As for the U.S. economy, Europe’s debt crisis is bound to have some fallout, he said.

European and U.S. stock markets have sagged on concern that Greece may default on its debts, setting off a chain reaction that could engulf other nations and their banks. Berkshire has made bullish derivative bets on global equity markets including contracts tied to the Euro Stoxx 50 Index, and Buffett has traveled to Europe in search of acquisitions.

--With assistance from Maryellen Tighe and Charles Mead in New York. Editors: Dan Reichl, Terje Langeland.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Frye in New York at afrye@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Kraut at dkraut2@bloomberg.net


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