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Buffett predicts unease will dampen recovery

Berkshire Hathaway Stock Split
"I thought it would be slow to come back and it has," Warren Buffett says of the downturn and recovery. "The hangover is sort of proportional to the binge." Nati Harnik / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said Wednesday he's still not sure when the economy will recover, but he expects the rebound to be slow because American consumers remain uneasy.

The Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway said before the economy will recover, Americans will have to feel more comfortable about spending money.

"We need to get money in people's pockets. The first stimulus plan did not do that very well," Buffett said.

Buffett spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday before Berkshire shareholders met to approve a 50-for-1 split of the company's Class B shares as part of the company's planned acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.

Buffett said the slow economic recovery the nation is experiencing now is related to the financial excesses of previous years, when many people and companies spent beyond their means.

"I thought it would be slow to come back and it has," Buffett said. "The hangover is sort of proportional to the binge."

Buffett said he thinks government should be more focused on the economy than health care reform right now, but he again praised government efforts to stabilize the economy during the financial crisis even if they haven't been perfect.

"The government came through. Overall, I give them high marks for what they did," Buffett said.

Buffett said he thinks banks that received bailout money are being vilified by politicians and the public because they're an easy target, but much of the criticism is misplaced.

"When things don't go well, people like to point fingers. That's human nature," Buffett said.

Buffett said his favorite investment bank, Goldman Sachs, is getting criticized now partly because it is making the most money. But Goldman was able to raise new money in the fall of 2008 — including $5 billion from Berkshire — when few companies were able to.

"I don't think anybody could have done a better job at Goldman Sachs than (CEO) Lloyd Blankfein," Buffett said.

Buffett said Berkshire's subsidiaries that have laid people off, such as Shaw Carpet and Acme Brick, won't hire people back until the demand returns.

Buffett said even though building more houses might help his company's carpet and brick businesses, that wouldn't be the right move.

"We still need to work off this excess inventory," Buffett said.

Berkshire owns more than 60 subsidiaries, including clothing, furniture, jewelry and corporate jet firms, but its insurance and utility businesses typically account for more than half of the company's revenue. It also has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.