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updated 5/3/2004 3:45:28 PM ET 2004-05-03T19:45:28

Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor who has agreed to act as an economic adviser to John Kerry, believes the policies pursued by the Democratic presidential candidate will play a relatively minor role in determining the result of the U.S. election. 

"I think the election will be a referendum on George Bush," said Mr. Buffett at the close of his annual shareholder meeting in Omaha. "The Kerry campaign is quite unimportant compared to how people feel about Bush when they go into the voting booth." 

Mr. Buffett, a Democrat who recently advised California's Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, also played down his role as an adviser to Mr. Kerry, saying he was available to anyone who wanted to ask his views. 

"I have only had one talk to John Kerry who called me three weeks ago and said would I work on an economic council with Roger Altman and Bob Rubin [Treasury secretaries in the Clinton administration] and some others and I said yes and that's about it," said Mr. Buffett. 

"I have not had any meetings yet but I expect I will receive calls asking me to endorse a policy of some sort or another." 

Nevertheless, the move comes as the Democrats seek the backing of prominent business leaders after an initial campaign characterised by heavy criticism of outsourcing and tax avoidance among big companies. 

Mr. Buffett's views on the dangers of the U.S. trade deficit will chime with some of Mr. Kerry's comments, but the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway denied he was in favor of protectionism. 

"Nothing I would do is geared towards protecting any industry or jobs," he said. "I just don't think [a deficit this big] is sustainable. I am not aiming for perfect balance but something will happen if it goes on like this." 

Berkshire's chairman also warned of increased signs of inflation among its businesses that were likely to lead to a damaging rise in interest rates. 

"When prices start increasing, it's contagious," said Mr Buffett. "I would not want to bet on [the transition to higher interest rates] being smooth."

© The Financial Times Ltd 2010. "FT" and "Financial Times" are trademarks of the Financial Times.

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