Saturday, October 19, 2013
Buffett: Debt limit is 'political weapon of mass destruction'
Warren Buffett said Wednesday the threat to not raise the nation's debt limit "after you've already spent the money" is a "political weapon of mass destruction" comparable to poison gas and shouldn't be used by either party.
"I know it's been used in the past, but we used the atomic bomb back in 1945 but we decided we weren't going to do something like that again," he said hours before the government's midnight deadline to raise the debt limit or possibly default.
Buffett called on both sides to pledge not to use the debt limit as a weapon. "There are plenty of weapons that can be used," like filibusters, he said.
In a live interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box, the Berkshire Hathaway chairman said he doesn't expect the U.S. will do anything to damage its 237-year reputation of paying its bills on time, but if it does it would be a "pure act of idiocy" and "asinine."
"Credit worthiness is like virginity, it can be preserved but not restored very easily, so it is crazy to play around with it," he said.
Buffett said Berkshire owns short-term Treasury securities but he isn't worried about getting paid.
He also said the ongoing crisis in Washington over spending and the debt limit is no reason to avoid buying securities, pointing out that Berkshire subsidiary Marmon Group just paid $1.1 billion for a British drinks dispensing business. "We did not buy it with a condition that we could call off the deal" if there was no vote to raise the debt limit, he said.
He added that in his long career, he has never put off a deal by a few weeks to see what might happen in Washington.
When it was pointed out to him that he may be "unique" because he is a long-term investor, he replied that "most people are."
"If you take the people I meet in Omaha, you take the people who own farms, you take the people who own apartment houses, most people are long-term investors, thank heavens," he said.
Buffett rejected the idea that investors should be worried about a bull market "bubble" for stocks. He said, "We could at some point, but no, stocks are not selling at bubble levels. What do you diversify in? You want to diversify into cash? I think it's a terrible investment compared to equities. You want to diversify into long-term bonds? I think it's a terrible investment compared to equities."
Buffett also said Berkshire's spending rate on acquisitions this year is as "high as ever."
He told Becky Quick he had been working on a big acquisition, a $12 billion "elephant," but the deal didn't come together.
Buffett was interviewed in Washington where he is attending Fortune's Most Powerful Women summit.