Billionaire Warren Buffett has already said he thinks the U.S. economy is in a recession, and now he says the economy is getting worse.
OMAHA, Neb. — Billionaire Warren Buffett has already said he thinks the U.S. economy is in a recession, and now he says the economy is getting worse.
Buffett told CNBC in a live interview Wednesday that all the data he sees from Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries show the economy weakening.
“Everything connected with construction and with consumer, I see weakness, and if anything, it’s accentuating a little bit.”
Buffett also said he thinks inflation is picking up, especially in steel and oil, so it should be a concern for the Federal Reserve. But Buffett said he would have been surprised if the Federal Reserve were to announce a rate cut Wednesday afternoon.
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The Fed left rates unchanged.
“I think the Fed has to be careful not to do anything that signals that they regard inflation as a secondary goal and something they’ll worry about later,” he said.
Driving oil prices
Buffett also said supply and demand, not market speculation, is what’s driving oil prices to new heights.
Oil futures fell Wednesday after the Energy Department said the nation’s supplies of fuel and oil were larger than expected last week, but prices remain above $130 a barrel.
At least nine bills proposing limits on oil speculation have been introduced in Congress in recent weeks.
“In my adult lifetime, up until the last year or two, there’s been a huge amount of excess supply available,” Buffett said. “We don’t have excess capacity in the world anymore, and that’s why you’re seeing these oil prices.”
Buffett said he doesn’t think it makes sense to impose a windfall tax on oil companies that have benefited from the high price of oil when other commodity prices have also increased. Steel, corn and soybean prices are all up significantly.
“I don’t think any candidate in his right mind — with the number of electoral votes in farm states — would say that you ought to tax farmers specially because they’re getting a windfall,” Buffett said.
When asked about politics, Buffett said he doesn’t think Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain will have trouble raising money in the presidential race.
Buffett will appear at a campaign fundraiser for Obama in Chicago next Wednesday.
On another financial issue, Buffett declined to take a position on the proposed takeover of Anheuser-Busch even though Buffett’s company owns 35.6 million shares of Anheuser stock.
Buffett was in New York to dine with the winners of a charity auction. Every year Buffett auctions off a lunch and donates the proceeds to the Glide Foundation, which provides social services to the poor and homeless in San Francisco.
The two investors Buffett was dining with Wednesday paid $650,100 last year for the chance to have lunch with the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
A new lunch auction began Sunday and runs through Friday. The top bid on eBay Wednesday morning was $77,100, but that is almost certain to grow before the auction ends.
Berkshire Hathaway owns a variety of companies, including insurance, clothing, furniture, jewelry and candy companies, restaurants, natural gas and corporate jet firms and has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola and Wells Fargo.