‘Nothing can basically stop America’

Warren Buffett

Gerry Miller | CNBC

(Follow live updates of Berkshire’s annual meeting here.)

Warren Buffett said Saturday he is optimistic that the U.S. economy will re-emerge even after being dealt a body blow by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Nothing can basically stop America,” said Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, from the conglomerate’s first virtual shareholder’s meeting from Omaha, Nebraska. “The American miracle, the American magic has always prevailed and it will do so again.”

“In World War II, I was convinced of this,” he said. “I was convinced of this during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 9/11, the financial crisis.”

More than 1 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University. The outbreak has led to states shutting down their economies, which has resulted in unprecedented job losses. 

The Labor Department said Thursday that 3.84 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending April 25. That brings the six-week total to more than 30 million.

The outbreak also sent overall economic activity spiraling lower during the first quarter, with a 4.8% GDP. contraction. That was the biggest U.S. economic downturn since the financial crisis

Buffett himself said the economy still faces an extraordinary range of outcomes. He also highlighted how different this downturn is compared to the one more than a decade ago.

“In 2008 and 2009 our economic train went off the tracks, and there were some reasons why the roadbed was weak in terms of the banks,” Buffett said. “This time we just pulled the train of the tracks and put it on a siding. And I don’t really know of any parallel — in terms of a very, very well the most important country in the world, most productive, huge population — in effect sidelining its economy and its workforce.”

But Buffett thinks better days lie ahead for the U.S. economy. 

“If you had to pick one time to be born and one place to be born … you would not pick 1720; you would not pick 1820; you would not pick 1920,” Buffett said. “You’d pick today and you would pick America. Ever since America was organized… people have wanted to come here.”

Still, the legendary investor urged others to be judicious when betting on America. “You can bet on America but you have to be careful about how you bet,” he said. “Markets can do anything.”

“In my view, for most people, the best thing is to do is owning the S&P 500 index fund. There are huge amounts of money people pay for advice they really don’t need. If you bet on America and sustain that position for decades, you’d do far better than buying treasury securities.”

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