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Warren Buffett upbeat on US business growth

Warren BuffettImage copyright Reuters

US billionaire Warren Buffett has backed American businesses to continue to create “mind-boggling” wealth.

The investment guru, known as the “Sage of Omaha”, said US stocks were “virtually certain to be worth far more in the years ahead”.

Mr Buffett steered clear of mentioning President Trump in his annual letter to shareholders in his investment firm.

But he did praise “a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants” in helping the US economy to prosper.

Mr Buffett, who supported Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the US presidential election, did not address Donald Trump’s policies.

But he took an upbeat view of the US economy, repeating his claim that “babies born in America today are the luckiest crop in history”.

Mr Buffett’s comments came as his firm Berkshire Hathaway, which owns dozens of US stocks including Apple, Coca-Cola and the four biggest US airlines, reported a 15% rise in fourth-quarter profits to $6.3bn (£5bn).

Stock success

However, over the course of the year it underperformed the S&P 500 share index for the fourth time in the last five years.

The growth in the company’s book value – that is the company’s assets minus its liabilities and Mr Buffett’s preferred measure of Berkshire’s performance – was 10.7% in 2016, while the S&P 500 rose 12.0%.

Mr Buffett said investors “will almost certainly do well” by staying with a “collection of large, conservatively financed American businesses”.

The gifted stock-picker, who is on course to win a 2008 bet that an investment in the S&P 500 would beat five hedge funds over 10 years, also took a fresh swipe at highly paid “active” investment managers.

He said “1,000 monkeys would be just as likely to produce a seemingly all-wise prophet” as 1,000 highly paid professionals.

‘Epitaph’

However, one investment manager said he felt Mr Buffett spent too much of the letter extolling Berkshire’s virtues and did not address what went wrong with Kraft Heinz’s failed takeover of UK household goods giant Unilever.

The letter was more about Mr Buffett’s “epitaph even more so than prior letters”, said Cole Smead of Smead Capital Management.

Last week, Kraft, in which Berkshire is a major investor, dropped its $143bn (£115bn) takeover attempt amid strong opposition from Unilever’s board.

Mr Buffet has previously spoken against hostile takeovers – where firms try to buy out shareholders directly without support from the target’s board.

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