Buffett says still plans to buy U.S. businesses

LAUSANNE, Switzerland Tue May 20, 2008 12:02pm EDT

Billionaire financier and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett attends a television interview during the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, May 3, 2008. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Billionaire financier and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett attends a television interview during the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, May 3, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - The world's richest man, U.S. investor Warren Buffett, remains open to buying more businesses in the United States despite the decline of the U.S. dollar and recent banking sector wobbles.

"I am not disappointed at all in the U.S.," Buffett told a news conference during a European tour, launched to seek possible targets for his investment company Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N).

"We will probably always be present in the minds of more people in the U.S.," he said, adding Berkshire Hathaway would likely "buy a U.S. company or two in the next couple of years.

"I love buying businesses in the United States," he said, though his trip to Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Italy was a way to boost Berkshire Hathaway's profile in those markets.

"We would buy a company in any country in the world where we felt that we understood the company well enough," he said.

Buffett, whose proclamations are followed by investors worldwide, said the dollar's slide against the euro and other major currencies had not affected his investment patterns in a significant way.

"It's not really a factor," Buffett said. "If the euro was at 80 or the euro was at 110 I'd be here ... I am not unhappy about buying in euros today, let's say, or Swiss francs, and earning money in euros or Swiss francs."

Without offering specifics, Buffett said he believed European currencies would remain relatively strong over the long term. "I do not worry about them depreciating against the U.S. dollar," he said.

KNOW YOUR BANKER

Investors worldwide have been rattled by steep losses in equity markets, in particular in the financial sector where leading banks including Switzerland's UBS AG UBSN.VX have been hurt by their exposure to high-risk U.S. mortgage debt.

Buffett told journalists many executives were not being careful enough.

"I think that the head of any bank or any financial institution has to be the chief risk officer. A great many institutions have not been run by people who either felt that obligation or took it seriously," he said.

"We are seeing the consequences of people not understanding the vehicles they were setting up, the instruments they were selling."

Asked if he would buy a bank, Buffett said: "I'd buy a bank but I'd want to know who the banker was."

Buffett said the Berkshire Hathaway board has identified three possible people to succeed him, but stressed he had no intention of leaving soon.

"Berkshire's culture is institutionalized and we've got some fantastic people to succeed me, but not too soon."

Buffett also said he supports both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for U.S. president and will continue to hold fundraisers for each of them until the Democratic Party candidate is set.

He had told both Clinton and Obama he would back them before they launched their competing presidential bids, putting him in an awkward position once they both decided to run.

"I have been supporting both of them ever since. I will be very happy if either one of them is president of the United States," he said.

(Editing by Jonathan Lynn and David Holmes)

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