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Buffett remains optimistic about future despite coronavirus

ap photo In this 2019 file photo, Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, speaks following the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb.

OMAHA, Neb. — Billionaire investor Warren Buffett doesn’t know how or when the economy will recover from the coronavirus outbreak shutdown, but he remains optimistic in the long-term future of the United States.

Buffett said Saturday at Berkshire Hathaway’s online annual meeting that there’s no way to predict the economic future right now because the possibilities are still too varied. Berkshire’s meeting was held without any of the roughly 40,000 shareholders who typically attend because of the virus.

“We do not know exactly what happens when you voluntarily shut down a substantial portion of your society,” Buffett said because it has never been done. He said it may take several years to understand all the economic implications of the coronavirus outbreak, but it hasn’t changed his long-term view because the country has endured wars and depressions before.

“In the end, the answer is never bet against America,” Buffett said.

It’s not clear how long the virus will continue to weigh on the economy, Buffett said. He said there could still be unpleasant surprises from the virus and the way people react to it.

“You’re dealing with a huge unknown,” Buffett said, so businesses and investors can’t be certain of what will happen in the near future.

Buffett said he doesn’t expect major banks to have significant financial problems during the virus crisis because they are in much better shape than they were during the financial crisis of 2008.

All of the events surrounding the annual meeting, including a trade show where Berkshire companies sell their products, were cancelled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Buffett had a different partner for the question session.

Instead of sitting next to business partner Charlie Munger in an arena filled with shareholders, Buffett was joined this year by Berkshire Vice Chairman Greg Abel, who oversees all of the company’s non-insurance businesses, to answer questions in front of a Yahoo Finance camera.

“It’s certainly a break with years and years of tradition with Buffett and Munger,” said Andy Kilpatrick, a retired stockbroker who wrote a Buffett biography and has attended every annual meeting since 1985.

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