May 2, 2020 / 11:41 PM / a month ago

BRIEF-Warren Buffett, Greg Abel answer Berkshire shareholder questions; discuss pandemic, airlines, share repurchases, Berkshire culture, other topics

May 2 (Reuters) - Buffett says berkshire could have layoffs at its manufacturing businesses Buffett says geico could be hurt if its policyholders are involved in crashes with a growing number of uninsured drivers, who collectively are involved in a disproportionately large number of crashes Abel criticizes companies, which he does not name, that aggressively use their balance sheets to repurchase stock without leaving a cushion for any ‘bump in the road’ Buffett says banks are in ‘very good shape,’ reflecting strengthened reserves and balance sheets following 2008 financial crisis; also says ‘i don’t see special problems in the banking industry now’ Buffett and abel finish answering shareholder questions in largely empty arena in downtown omaha, nebraska; buffett pledges ‘we’ll fill this place’ for 2021 berkshire annual meeting Berkshire hathaway chairman warren buffett and vice chairman greg abel begin answering shareholder questions, following end of formal portion of berkshire annual meeting Buffett confirms berkshire has sold its ‘entire positions’ in the four largest u.s. Airlines — american, delta, southwest and united — reflecting how the coronavirus pandemic has changed the industry Buffett says ‘we’re willing to do something very big,’ such as a $30 bln-$50 bln transaction Buffett says berkshire hasn’t provided financial support to companies as it did during 2008 financial crisis because ‘we don’t see anything that attractive’ Buffett says berkshire has provided money to a few of its struggling operating businesses, but won’t do it indefinitely Abel says that in five years, ‘we see our employment numbers being far greater than they are today’ Buffett says berkshire has not changed its policy toward keeping underperforming businesses; says he might sell such a business but ‘one way or another we will not continue to hold it’ Buffett says delays in payments by geico car insurance policyholders because of the pandemic will be a ‘significant cost to us’ Buffett says berkshire would have been willing to offer pandemic insurance before the coronavirus pandemic began, had it been priced correctly; says in retrospect it would have been a bad idea Abel says ‘i don’t see the culture of berkshire changing’ after buffett, 89, and vice chairman charlie munger, 96, are no longer there Buffett calls the coronavirus a huge unknown, says it is unclear how the american public will react if there is a second wave of cases several months from now Buffett says he won’t promise berkshire’s stock will outperform the s&p 500 over the long term, but he will try to make it happen, noting that much of his and his family’s net worth is in berkshire Buffett says vice chairman charlie munger ‘is in good health’ Buffett says if low oil prices prevail there will be a lot of bad energy loans and ‘you can imagine what happens to the equity holders’ Buffett says if interest rates go negative, investors ought to own equities, or at least ‘something other than debt’ Buffett says u.s. Corporate income taxes could rise at some point Buffett defends berkshire’s share repurchase practices, saying berkshire will repurchase its own stock ‘when it’s to the advantage of the continuing shareholder’

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