Economy Buffett: European concerns, U.S. housing woes linger

By Josh Funk

AP Business Writer

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Billionaire investor Warren Buffett says Europe's debt concerns and the anemic U.S. home construction business will continue to hurt the economy even though many businesses are performing well.

Buffett told CNBC on Monday that the recent leadership changes in Italy and Greece should help, but investors are losing confidence in the euro. And Buffett said Europe doesn't have anyone with the authority to take the measures needed to defend the currency.

He said stopping a run on a currency is difficult. He said that when the U.S. economy began to contract in late 2008, the Federal Reserve and Treasury were willing to do whatever it took to revive business.

Buffett says no one in Europe has comparable authority to the Federal Reserve.

"They have a situation where they found a fundamental flaw in that they can't print money," said Buffett, who is chairman and CEO of the conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Buffett said much of the American economy is performing well, but any business related to residential home construction continues to struggle because of the oversupply of homes.

"You have a huge segment of the U.S. economy that's doing quite well, and you have a segment that's in a depression," Buffett said.

Berkshire owns a variety of roughly 80 businesses, and Buffett uses reports from those companies to gain insight into the economy. He said several of Berkshire's biggest subsidiaries, such as Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, will post record years. But Berkshire's housing-related businesses, like Acme Brick and Shaw Carpet, continue to struggle.

But Buffett said he doesn't think the U.S. housing market needs more government stimulus from either Congress or the Federal Reserve. He says what's needed is for more households to be created and that will happen over time.

"It doesn't solve itself as fast as people like, but it does solve itself," Buffett said.

Buffett said he met informally with officials from the Securities and Exchange Commission in June to answer questions related to Berkshire's $9 billion purchase of specialty chemical maker Lubrizol earlier this year.

That deal generated headlines in the spring after it was revealed that former Berkshire executive David Sokol had bought nearly 100,000 Lubrizol shares for about $100 apiece in early January, when he knew Lubrizol's board had been discussing a possible Berkshire acquisition. Sokol resigned after disclosing his trades to Berkshire.

Buffett said he and Berkshire officials cooperated with the SEC, but he doesn't know what government investigators are planning. Buffett has called Sokol's actions unethical and inexcusable.

Sokol has denied any wrongdoing in the Lubrizol deal, and he says he left Berkshire to start his own firm.

Later Monday, Buffett is scheduled to speak at an event to raise money for one of his favorite charities, Girls Inc. Buffett will be interviewed by a CNBC reporter at the luncheon event at Omaha's CenturyLink Center Arena.

Girls Inc. provides educational and recreational programs for girls.

Published: Tue, Nov 15, 2011