- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

OMAHA, Neb. | Billionaire Warren Buffett said Saturday the U.S. government is generally taking the right actions to help the economy recover, and he said it should be given some benefit of the doubt because officials have been reacting in the middle of a crisis.

The state of the economy was one of the first things addressed at Saturday’s daylong Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders meeting. About 35,000 people packed an arena and overflow rooms to listen to Mr. Buffett and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger answer questions for hours.

“Overall, I commend the actions that were taken,” Mr. Buffett said. He said no one should expect perfection because the economy experienced a “financial hurricane.”

Mr. Buffett said he can’t predict how quickly the economy and the markets will improve. He said last fall that the U.S. was facing an “economic Pearl Harbor.”

To illustrate the challenges the nation faced last year, Mr. Buffett showed a sales receipt for $5 million in U.S. Treasury bonds that Berkshire sold in December for $90.07 more than face value, ensuring a negative return for the buyer. Mr. Buffett said he doesn’t think most investors will see negative returns on U.S. bonds again in their lifetimes.

“It’s been a very extraordinary year,” he said.

Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger planned to spend more than five hours answering questions at the Berkshire meeting. In the exhibit hall Saturday morning, Mr. Buffett was mobbed like a movie star by shareholders seeking photos of the CEO as he walked between exhibits for subsidiaries Justin Boots and Dairy Queen.

The meeting began as usual with a humorous movie, but instead of the traditional comical cartoon, Berkshire offered a reassuring message from animated versions of its products.

An animated Mrs. See of See’s Candy told the crowd that it didn’t seem right to have a humorous cartoon when so many things in the world don’t seem very sweet. And a talking Dairy Queen ice cream treat said the security of the company’s balance sheet would help it withstand any blizzard.

The economy, succession at the top of Berkshire and the state of the company, which last year had its worst year since Mr. Buffett took over in 1965, were on the minds of many shareholders. Berkshire reported a 2008 profit of $4.99 billion, or $3,224 per Class A share. That was down 62 percent from the previous year, but better than many companies.

Mr. Buffett, 78, offered a few new clues about who’ll replace him at the helm of Berkshire Hathaway.

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