Billionaire investor Warren Buffett doesn't know how the U.S. economy will recover from the coronavirus outbreak shutdown. He just believes it eventually will, and that's what fuels his optimism about investing in the long-term future of the United States, he said at an unusual annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders on Saturday.
Unusual in that Buffett's insurance conglomerate earlier in the day had reported that itin the first three months of the year. Unusual, too, in that the company's annual shareholder meeting was "virtual" — conducted online in its hometown of Omaha without any of the 40,000 enthusiastic shareholders who typically attend what's often called the "annual "Woodstock of Capitalism."
Buffett said during a question-and-answer session Saturday there's no way to predict the economic future now because the possible outcomes are still too varied during the coronavirus pandemic that metastasized into a global recession as billions of people cut off their dealings with each other.
"We don't know what happens when you voluntarily shut down a portion of your economy," Buffett said, noting it has never been done.
It may take several years to understand all the economic implications of the coronavirus outbreak, he added, but it hasn't changed his long-term view because the country has endured wars and depressions before.
"I remain convinced ... that nothing can basically stop America," Buffett said.
Nonetheless, Buffett remains uncertain about the direction of stocks over the next year or so. He said Berkshire, which owned more $180 billion worth of stocks at the end of March, added just $500 million worth of stocks to its portfolio in the past month while selling more than $6 billion worth of holdings.
A big portion of those sales were airline stocks. Buffett on behalf of Berkshire had bought billions worth of airline shares in the past few years. On Saturday, he called that a mistake and confirmed Berkshire in April had sold its entire remaining stakes in American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.
"It turned out I was wrong," Buffett explained. "The world has changed for airlines and I wish them well."