Buffett says Berkshire 'fine' with Trump or Clinton

OMAHA, Neb. Warren Buffett said on Saturday that Berkshire Hathaway Inc is poised to do well no matter who wins the White House in November, and the billionaire investor defended the performance and tactics of the conglomerate's several large investments.Buffett presided over his 51st Berkshire annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, where he and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded five hours of questions on such matters as Coca-Cola's sugary drinks, lower shipping volumes on the BNSF railroad, risks from derivatives, and who might succeed Buffett as chief executive.Buffett, a staunch supporter of Democrat Hillary Clinton for president, was asked about the regulatory impact on Berkshire if Republican front-runner Donald Trump wins the 2016 U.S. presidential election."That won't be the main problem," he said to audience laughter. "If either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton becomes president, and one of them is very likely to be, I think Berkshire will continue to do fine."Because the meeting fell early this year, Berkshire also released only preliminary first-quarter results rather than full results, which will come out on May 6.Berkshire said net income probably rose 8 percent, helped by a gain from the swap of Procter & Gamble Co stock for the Duracell battery business.Operating profit probably fell 12 percent, however. Buffett said BNSF was hurt by declining oil prices and coal shipments, while hailstorms caused losses in Berkshire insurance units."Railroad carloading throughout the industry - all of the major railroads - were down significantly in the first quarter, and probably almost certainly will continue to be down for the balance of the year," Buffett said.Berkshire owns close to 90 businesses in energy, insurance, manufacturing, railroad, retail and other sectors, and invests well over $100 billion in stocks. COKE IS STILL IT The meeting filled a downtown arena and overflow rooms, and shareholders could buy products made by Berkshire units at deep discounts in an exhibit hall.Buffett suggested that 40,000 people may have shown up for his "Woodstock for Capitalists," close to last year's record, though the meeting was streamed online for the first time.At the meeting, Buffett and Munger fielded dozens of questions from shareholders, analysts and journalists. A shareholder proposal for more disclosures on the risks to Berkshire on climate change was overwhelmingly rejected.Buffett parried concerns raised by a shareholder, and previously by hedge fund manager William Ackman, that Berkshire promotes bad health through its roughly 9-percent stake in Coca-Cola Co.Buffett, who consumes 700 calories of Coke a day, said it seemed wrong to blame calories alone for rising obesity levels."I elect to get my 2,600 or 2,700 calories a day from thingsthat me feel good when I eat them," he said, including the Cherry Coke and See's peanut brittle he consumed during the meeting. "That's my sole test." Buffett also renewed his defense of Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital, which with Berkshire has a controlling stake in food company Kraft Heinz Co, where it has built on its reputation as a ruthless cost-cutter.Berkshire is seen as a friendlier owner, but Buffett said 3G's cuts have been "extremely intelligent," and did not appear a threat to Kraft Heinz's ability to produce packaged goods.Buffett also defended efforts of Berkshire's NV Energy unit to persuade Nevada regulators to reduce subsidies for homeowners there who use solar power, prompting Elon Musk's SolarCity Corp to say it would cease activity there."Ninety-nine percent of our consumers were being asked to subsidize the one percent that had solar units," Buffett said. "I personally think that if society is the one that's benefiting from the reduction of greenhouse gasses, that society should pick up the tab."Buffett also emphasized his worry that derivatives could cause major risks for most of the world's largest banks if markets were disrupted."It is still a potential time bomb," he said, but added that he was "not in the least troubled" by Berkshire's big stakes in Wells Fargo & Co and Bank of America Corp. Buffett also said Geico has been hurt because falling oil prices led to more driving, more accidents and more loss claims, but said he did not "necessarily see the same trends this year."He also said there are no "tea leaves" in the recent announcement that the next chief of the General Re reinsurance unit will report to Buffett's insurance lieutenant Ajit Jain, not to Buffett. Some investors believe Jain is a top candidate to succeed Buffett as Berkshire's chief executive.EARLY WAKE-UPBuffett also said Mark Donegan, chief executive of Precision Castparts, which Berkshire bought in January for $32 billion, may now fare even better now that his company has the support from Berkshire's deep well of capital."I would almost rank Mark as one of a kind," Buffett said, before joking: "If he needs capital, he's got my 800 number."Shareholders at the meeting included hundreds who waited hours in a rainstorm before doors opened at 6:20 a.m., 40 minutes early."I wanted to make sure I got a good seat," said Kim Baumler, an office manager for a wealth management company from Fargo, North Dakota, who said she was at the head of the line at 10:30 p.m. Friday night. "My boss is a huge Warren Buffett follower, and I got hooked. I wanted to see what it was all about."Mark Hughes, a money manager from Ashton, Maryland attending his 25th meeting, said he sees no sign Buffett and Munger are winding down."They're 85 and 92, and look as good as they ever did," he said. (Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Nick Zieminski) Read more

Anti-Trump protests break out for second day in California

BURLINGAME, Calif. Protests erupted in California for the second day in a row on Friday against U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is moving closer to winning the Republican nomination after a string of victories this week. The billionaire businessman was forced to halt his motorcade and go through a back entrance to a hotel to give a speech to the California Republican convention and avoid several hundred loud protesters gathered outside."That was not the easiest entrance I've ever made," Trump told the gathering in Burlingame, south of San Francisco, after weaving around a barrier and clambering across a road to get to the venue. "It felt like I was crossing the border actually."Demonstrators, some of whom held Mexican national flags, at one point rushed security gates at the hotel and police officers had their batons out. The mogul had already drawn protests in California, with chaotic scenes on Thursday outside a Trump rally in Costa Mesa. Anti-Trump protesters smashed the window of a police car and blocked traffic. Some 20 people were arrested.Protests have become common outside rallies for Trump who has earned ardent critics, as well as support from Republican voters, for his rhetoric against illegal immigration. His campaign abandoned a rally in Chicago last month after clashes between his supporters and protesters. He has accused Mexico of sending drug dealers and rapists across the U.S. border and has promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.Trump, who described himself this week as the party's presumptive nominee, would take a large stride toward knocking his Republican rivals out of the presidential race if he wins the Indiana primary next week. On Friday, he said he is approaching the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.Trump, who has run as a political outsider and only recently started making inroads with the Republican establishment, called for the party to band together behind him. But said he could win the White House without them if needed. "There should be and there has to be unity. Now with that being said, would I win, can I win without it? I think so, to be honest," Trump told the convention. His speech drew applause, though not the fervent reception of his usual campaign rallies.INDIANA FIGHT Trump's main rival, Senator Ted Cruz, on Friday picked up the backing of Governor Mike Pence of Indiana in a rearguard battle to damage Trump's chances. "I'm not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary," Pence said on an Indiana radio show. Cruz, from Texas, is trailing the former reality TV star in the Midwestern state after losing to him by a wide margin in all five Northeastern states that held nominating contests on Tuesday. A CBS poll earlier this week found Trump with about 40 percent of support in Indiana, compared to 35 percent for Cruz. The poll had a margin of error of 6.6 points. Other polls have also shown Trump ahead. The Republican front-runner was in California ahead of its June 7 primary, when the most convention delegates of the Republican nominating cycle will be at stake. After his speech, Trump made a similarly unconventional exit out of the hotel via the back door.Cheryl McDonald, 71, of Discovery Bay, said she had to pass through protesters to get inside the hotel."They were yelling. I think the only words they know in the dictionary are profanities," said McDonald, who said she is a Trump supporter.Ohio Governor John Kasich, a distant third in the race for the party's nomination, distanced himself from what he said was a divisive campaign that preyed on voters' fears."I'm worried about a divided, polarized country," Kasich said. "It doesn't have to be that way." (Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Timothy Ahmann in Washington and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Alistair Bell and Kim Coghill) Read more

Trump's 'America first' speech alarms U.S. allies

LONDON Donald Trump's first major foreign policy address alarmed American allies, who view the Republican front runner's repeated invocation of an "America first" agenda as a threat to retreat from the world.While most governments were careful not to comment publicly on a speech by a U.S. presidential candidate, Germany's foreign minister veered from that protocol to express concern at Trump's wording."I can only hope that the election campaign in the USA does not lack the perception of reality," Frank-Walter Steinmeier said."The world's security architecture has changed and it is no longer based on two pillars alone. It cannot be conducted unilaterally," he said of foreign policy in a post-Cold War world. "No American president can get round this change in the international security architecture.... 'America first' is actually no answer to that."Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister who served as UN envoy to the Balkans in the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, said he heard Trump's speech as "abandoning both democratic allies and democratic values"."Trump had not a word against Russian aggression in Ukraine, but plenty against past U.S. support for democracy in Egypt," Bildt said on Twitter, referring to lines from Trump's speech that criticized the Barack Obama administration for withdrawing support for autocrat Hosni Mubarak during a 2011 uprising."FIRST ISOLATIONIST CANDIDATE"Trump's speech, uncharacteristically read out from a teleprompter, seemed aimed at showing a more serious side of a politician who has said he intends to act more "presidential" after months of speaking mainly off the cuff.He promised "a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy" in contrast to the "reckless, rudderless and aimless" policies of Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump's likely Democratic opponent if he secures the Republican nomination.The speech included no dramatic new policy proposals that might generate headlines, such as his past calls to bar Muslims from entering the United States or to build a wall on the frontier with Mexico.Where he was specific, like rejecting the terms of last year's nuclear deal with Iran, calling for more investment in missile defense in Europe and accusing the Obama administration of tepid support for Israel, he was firmly within the Republican mainstream. A major theme -- that more NATO allies should spend at least 2 percent of their economic output on defense -- is one that has also been taken up by the Obama administration itself, including repeatedly during the president's visit to Europe last week.Nevertheless, Trump's rhetoric raised alarm in allied countries that still rely on the superpower for defense, particularly the phrase "America first", used in the 1930s by isolationists that sought to keep the United States out of World War Two.Former South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Sung-han, who now teaches at the Korea University in Seoul, said Trump would be "the first isolationist to be U.S. presidential candidate, while in the post-war era all the U.S. presidents have been to varying degrees internationalists.”“Saying the U.S. will no longer engage in anything that is a burden in terms of its relationships with allies, it would be almost like abandoning those alliances," he said. “It will inevitably give rise to anti-American sentiment worldwide.”Xenia Wickett, head of the U.S. and Americas Programme at Britain's Chatham House think tank, said the speech “suggests Trump would make America’s allies less secure rather than more."He talked about allies being confident but all of his rhetoric suggested that America should be unpredictable and that America’s allies needed to stand up for themselves." "DISASTER"Earlier in the U.S. nomination process, foreign leaders were not shy to condemn Trump openly and publicly.In December, when Trump called for his temporary ban on admitting Muslims, British Prime Minister David Cameron called him "divisive, stupid and wrong". Hundreds of thousands of Britons signed a petition calling for Trump to be banned from Britain for hate speech, which was taken up in parliament. Cameron declined to ban Trump, but said: "If he came to visit our country, I think he would unite us against him."In January, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel lumped Trump together with the leaders of European far-right parties as "not only a threat to peace and social cohesion, but also to economic development".These days, with Trump now seen as likely to win his party's nomination, European officials are more circumspect in public, but sound no less alarmed in private. A Trump presidency “would be a disaster for EU-U.S. ties," said one senior EU official involved in shaping foreign policy in Brussels."Right now, we and the Obama administration generally understand each other. I don’t think we understand Donald Trump. He has no understanding of the delicate, complex nature of foreign policy on Europe’s doorstep.”Nevertheless, some of the policies Trump shares with other Republicans do have sympathetic audiences abroad.Ryszard Terlecki, head of the parliamentary group of Poland's ruling rightwing Law and Justice party, said Trump had a point when criticizing the Obama administration for backing away from plans for increased missile defense."This decision influenced very badly the security of this part of Europe. If it weren't for that, the conflict in Ukraine would not escalate," he told Reuters.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly opposed the Obama administration's deal with Iran, and Trump's speech, like an earlier one to a pro-Israel lobby group in Washington, went down well with some right-leaning Israelis."Trump wants an America that is decent, strong, loyal - but also no patsy. And he sees in Israel the most loyal ally of the U.S." wrote Boaz Bismuth, diplomatic correspondent for the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom.In the Arab world, where governments and their citizens are also alarmed at the rise of non-Arab Iran, Trump's strong rejection of the deal with Tehran is a popular position that would have been embraced if expressed by another candidate.But Trump's previous call to ban Muslims from the United States has made him anathema in the region. Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdullah said no speech would be enough to salvage his reputation there: "He's a racist and a chauvinist who will never be widely welcomed in the Arab world."Or, as Kuwaiti twitter user Mohammed al-Ammar wrote: "Some of his speech is correct and logical, but the problem is, he's still #Trump." (Reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Robin Emmott in Brussels, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Jack Kim in Seoul, Noah Browning in Dubai, Pawel Sobczak in Warsaw and Guy Faulconbridge in London; writing by Peter Graff; editing by Anna Willard) Read more

Wall St. pulls back from record; utilities slump

NEW YORK U.S. stocks fell on Tuesday as investors engaged in profit-taking to pull major indexes from record levels, while the trend of modest moves and low volume continued heading into the final trading day of the year.The day's losses were broad, with each of the ten primary S&P 500 sectors in negative territory. Utilities .SPLRCU - 2014's best sector performer - led the decline with a drop of 2.1 percent. Equities have enjoyed a solid rally of late, buoyed by strong economic data and the U.S. Federal Reserve's commitment to be "patient" about raising interest rates. The S&P 500 gained nearly 6 percent over the prior eight sessions and managed to score its 53rd record close of the year on Monday.The speed and scale of the rally provided incentive to take profits, and amplified volatility is possible this week with many market participants out for the holiday, which dampens volume. The stock market will be closed on Thursday for the New Year's holiday."It wasn’t going to take much to prompt the decline, it’s probably more resting than anything else. We’ve had a pretty significant move higher," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Equity Management LLC in San Francisco. "We’ve marched straight up from 1,970 or so to about 2,100 so it’s only natural that we are going to get a little bit of a pullback here."The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 55.16 points, or 0.31 percent, to 17,983.07, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 10.22 points, or 0.49 percent, to 2,080.35 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 29.47 points, or 0.61 percent, to 4,777.44.In the latest economic data, consumer confidence rose slightly less than expected in December, while U.S. single-family home price appreciation slowed less than forecast in October. NeuroDerm Ltd (NDRM.O) soared more than 193 percent to $18.14 on heavy volume after it said data from a mid-stage study suggested that a higher dose of its Parkinson's drug could provide an alternative to treatments that require surgery. Civeo Corp (CVEO.N), which provides temporary housing for oilfield workers and miners, late Monday slashed its workforce and forecast revenue could fall by one-third as slumping crude prices force oil producers to cut costs. The stock plunged 52.6 percent to $3.92 on volume of about 56.2 million shares, the most active day in its history. Volume was light, with about 4.42 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, well below the 7.06 billion average so far this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,806 to 1,262, for a 1.43-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,671 issues fell and 1,031 advanced for a 1.62-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.The benchmark S&P 500 posted 25 new 52-week highs and 6 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 107 new highs and 39 new lows. (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Nick Zieminski) Read more

Big wins by Trump, Clinton give rivals little breathing room

INDIANAPOLIS Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton rolled up wins in Northeastern states on Tuesday in a major show of strength and immediately turned their fire on each other in a possible preview of a general election matchup.The New York billionaire easily defeated rivals John Kasich and Ted Cruz in all five states that held contests, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware, with a margin of victory rivaling that of his home state of New York a week ago. He was on a path to winning the vote in every county in each state.Clinton, already in control of the Democratic race, defeated challenger Bernie Sanders in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Her only loss of the night was to Sanders in Rhode Island.The race now pivots immediately to Indiana, which is shaping up to be Cruz’s best, and perhaps last, chance to slow Trump’s momentum toward the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election to succeed Democratic President Barack Obama.If Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, can win a large share of the state’s 57 delegates on May 3, it will boost the chances that Trump will not be able to amass the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination before the party’s convention in July. That could give Cruz a shot at convincing delegates to back him for president instead. A loss to Trump in Indiana would effectively cripple Cruz’s already faltering bid, and increase pressure on the party to rally around Trump as the prospective nominee. Katie Packer, head of the anti-Trump political-action committee Our Principles, said her organization would be active in the state with “TV, mail, phones, digital, all of it.”“We’re going to be playing in a lot of different congressional districts,” Packer said. The Club for Growth, a conservative pro-business group, has bought $1.5 million worth of anti-Trump TV ads in the state. Both groups worked to hand Trump a defeat at the hands of Cruz earlier this month in Wisconsin. "Tonight, this campaign moves back to more favorable terrain," Cruz said in Knightstown, Indiana on Tuesday.'DEAL ME IN'Back on the East Coast, Trump and Clinton used victory rallies to snipe at each other in the kind of back and forth that will take place should they win their party's presidential nominations and face off in the general election campaign."I think she's a flawed candidate and she's going to be easy to beat," Trump told a news conference at New York's Trump Tower. Trump, who is to give a foreign policy speech in Washington on Wednesday, criticized Clinton's record as secretary of state and her vote as a U.S. senator from New York in support of the Iraq war. He said her only advantage was as a woman seeking to become the first female U.S. president."Frankly if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote," he said.Clinton, in a victory speech in Philadelphia, took aim at Trump for accusing her of trying to "play the woman card.""Well if fighting for women's healthcare and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in," she said to cheers.Of 118 committed delegates available on Tuesday, the Associated Press said Trump took 105, raising his total delegates to 950. Kasich, the Ohio governor, won five, all from Rhode Island, and Cruz one, with seven delegates still to be assigned. Pennsylvania’s 54 unbound delegates will become clearer later. Projecting confidence, Trump said it was time for Cruz and Kasich to get out of the race so the party can unify behind him. He also urged Sanders' voters to support him."I consider myself the presumptive nominee," he said, adding later: "As far as I'm concerned, this thing is over."Clinton's strong showing in the Democratic race added to the pressure on Sanders to get out of the race or ease his criticism of her.In her speech, Clinton gave a nod to Sanders and spoke of the need for party unity."Whether you support Senator Sanders or you support me, there is much more that unites us than divides us," she said.Clinton's victories on Tuesday gave her 2,141 delegates, according to the AP, pushing her closer to the 2,383 needed for the nomination. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid told reporters earlier on Tuesday he did not think Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, had a realistic path to winning the nomination.Sanders, in a speech in Huntington, West Virginia, and a subsequent statement, showed no signs of getting out of the race. He is expected to campaign in Indiana."The people in every state in this country should have the right to determine who they want as president and what the agenda of the Democratic Party should be. That’s why we are in this race until the last vote is cast," he said in his statement. (Reporting by James Oliphant in Indianapolis and Emily Stephenson, Jeff Mason, Megan Cassella and Alana Wise in Washington; Writing by Steve Holland and James Oliphant; Editing by Peter Cooney.) Read more

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