Buffett believes reputation after Sokol still intact
OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - Warren Buffett believes his reputation is intact, the U.S. economy needs more jobs and that Donald Trump is not going to be the next president.
He offered those and dozens of other opinions in a wide-ranging news conference on Sunday that capped off the annual meeting weekend for Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N)(BRKb.N), his ice-cream-to-insurance conglomerate.
Buffett also told Reuters Insider in an interview that none of the people on Berkshire's secret CEO succession list know they are on the list -- but the top candidate for the job will not need any convincing to take it.
The succession issue was bound to be the front-and-center topic this weekend given the scandal surrounding David Sokol, the former head of two Berkshire businesses who was once seen as Buffett's heir apparent. He resigned in March and is now being probed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for his purchases of stock in a company he pushed Buffett to buy.
Buffett is known for his honest dealings and folksy manner, an image he has cultivated and one he believes is untarnished despite defending Sokol and then referring him to the SEC.
"Everything I do is out there for the people to judge," Buffett said. "I don't hold myself to a standard of perfection or I'd have committed suicide a long time ago."
Buffett headed into this year's annual meeting faced with tough questions from the global media and shareholders looking for his thoughts on the Sokol affair, a succession plan and the economy at large. He did not disappoint.
Considering the tone before the meeting, Buffett seem to emerge relatively unscathed. Most questions sought his opinion rather than press him on misdeeds perceived or alleged.
And after the meeting, many of the reporters swarmed Buffett like a rock star, hankering for pictures and autographs on their dollar bills.
With Sokol out of the picture, Buffett has a preferred successor in mind, one who will not need convincing in his estimation. Many shareholders assume it will be Berkshire reinsurance boss Ajit Jain.
Buffett said "it would be almost impossible" to consider a CEO from outside Berkshire.
One man who seemingly will not be under consideration -- or on a Berkshire Christmas card list any time soon -- is businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump, who is very publicly mulling a run for president.
The biggest laughs of the day came from a question on Trump's prospects for the White House.
"Obviously, I think he's a jerk," Berkshire's Vice Chairman Charlie Munger said, with Buffett adding in a more diplomatic way that he did not expect Trump to win the presidency.
With a largely international audience, Buffett took questions on a range of countries and their business prospects.
Buffett said Brazil was on Berkshire's radar, and that the company was actively making and looking at smaller bolt-on deals in Canada. Munger spoke admiringly of the Korean business community and praised the way the Chinese government has managed its currency.
But there was criticism too. Munger saved some of his harshest words for poverty and corruption in India, and Buffett questioned whether the Eurozone could survive the strain of the sovereign debt crisis.
As he has been of late, Buffett remained solidly in the corner of the United States, saying the Obama administration was rightly focusing on jobs and that the dynamics of the economy would change when excess housing inventory was depleted.
A reporter from China asked Buffett what he would do if he was running that country's giant sovereign wealth fund.
His answer was no surprise: he'd buy stocks -- especially American ones.
(Reporting by Ben Berkowitz in Omaha, writing by Ben Berkowitz and by Jennifer Saba in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr)
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