Warren Buffett ahead of the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder’s Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
OMAHA, Neb. — Warren Buffett, whose conglomerate is viewed as a barometer for U.S. economic health because of the range of businesses it owns, said something that doesn’t bode well for those believing we will skirt a recession.
The “Oracle of Omaha” believes that the “extraordinary period” of excessive spending on the back of pandemic stimulus is over, and now many of his businesses are faced with an inventory build-up that they’ll need to get rid of by having sales, he told about 40,000 shareholders who gathered in Omaha at Berkshire Hathaway‘s annual meeting Saturday.
“It is a different climate than it was six months ago. And a number of our managers were surprised,” Buffett said Saturday. “Some of them had too much inventory on order, and then all of a sudden it got delivered, and people weren’t in the same frame of mind as earlier. Now we will start having sales when we didn’t need to have sales before.”
Berkshire owns a diverse group of subsidiaries, from Borsheims Fine Jewelry and sportswear Brooks Running, to Duracell, See’s Candies, DQ, apparel company Fruit of the Loom, as well as Nebraska Furniture Mart. Investors always look to Buffett for economic insights as his myriad of businesses are closely tied to broader spending and overall demand. Then there’s his ownership of BNSF Railway, which gives him a broad view of goods being shipped around the country, and his significant energy operations, which can also give clues to the level of economic activity.
‘Extreme’ time is over
Buffett said his businesses had experienced an “extreme” period where consumers splurged, which led to many managers at his subsidiaries overestimating demand for certain products.
“It was just a question of getting goods to deliver. People bought, and they didn’t wait for sales. If you couldn’t sell them one thing, they would put another thing in their backlog,” Buffett said.
The 92-year-old investing icon said he expects to see an earnings decline for many of his businesses in light of an economic slowdown.
“In the general economy, the feedback we get is that, I would say, perhaps the majority of our businesses will actually report lower earnings this year than last year,” he said.
Still, Buffett thinks Berkshire is positioned well in terms of its investment income as higher interest rates are earning the conglomerate a substantial return. Berkshire owned about $130 billion in cash and Treasury bills.
Berkshire has fared well so far despite a challenging macro environment with operating earnings jumping 12.6% in the first quarter. The solid performance was driven by a rebound in the conglomerate’s insurance business. Overall earnings also rose sharply thanks in part to gains its equity portfolio, led by Apple.
“Nothing is sure tomorrow, nothing is sure next year, and nothing is ever sure, either in markets or in business forecasts, or in anything else,” Buffett said.