Buffett: Bank woes are "poetic justice"

TORONTO Thu Feb 7, 2008 10:00am EST

1 of 2. Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, listens to a question during testimony at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 14, 2007. The woes in the U.S. financial sector are 'poetic justice' for bankers who designed and sold complex investments that have since gone sour, Buffett said on Wednesday.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

TORONTO (Reuters) - The woes in the U.S. financial sector are "poetic justice" for bankers who designed and sold complex investments that have since gone sour, billionaire investor Warren Buffett said on Wednesday.

The head of the Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) (BRKb.N) group of companies also played down worries about a credit crunch by saying that recent interest rate cuts mean low-cost funds are readily available.

But he warned that the U.S. dollar will continue to slide unless the country can rein in its yawning trade deficit -- the "biggest factor" behind the decline. Still, he said, the U.S. economy will "do very well over time."

Buffett, one of the world's wealthiest people, appeared to see irony in the fact that many of the banks who marketed complex investments which have now crashed are bearing much of the fallout.

"It's sort of a little poetic justice, in that the people that brewed this toxic Kool-Aid found themselves drinking a lot of it in the end," he said.

Buffett, a legendary investor who has amassed a huge fortune through plays in a wide range of industries, has bet against the U.S. dollar in the past.

In 2005, Berkshire had made a $21.8 billion bet that the U.S. dollar would fall. It later unwound that successful position as it found other non-U.S. investments.

Buffett said on Wednesday in Toronto that the turmoil that has rocked the U.S. economy in recent months has imbued the markets with a healthy degree of caution, while the rate-cutting response from central bankers has ensured that cheap money remains available for borrowing.

"I wouldn't quite call it a credit crunch. Funds are available," Buffett said during a question and answer session at a business event. "Money is available, and it's really quite cheap because of the lowering of rates that has taken place."

He added: "What has happened is a repricing of risk and an unavailability of what I might call 'dumb money,' of which there was plenty around a year ago."

Buffet was in Toronto for the Canadian launch of corporate-news firm Business Wire, which Berkshire bought in 2006.

Buffett tends to favor companies with relatively simple businesses, strong management, consistent earnings, good returns on equity, and little debt.

As of late last year, Berkshire's businesses employed about 220,000 people and the number is growing as the group continues to expand its portfolio of companies. The units generated a $10.27 billion profit on revenue of $90.2 billion from January to September.

($1=1.01 Canadian)

(Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; Editing by Rob Wilson)