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And BNSF Railway reported a slight drop in earnings, in large part because of the rising cost of fuel and lower volumes of shipments.
Still, in his annual letter to shareholders — a must read for scores of investors, eager to glean his thoughts on the global state of affairs — Mr. Buffett professed continued faith in the resilience of the United States.
“We count on the American Tailwind and, though it has been becalmed from time to time, its propelling force has always returned,” he wrote. “I have yet to see a time when it made sense to make a long-term bet against America.”
Much of the letter was spent defending Berkshire’s practices.
That included share buybacks, on which the company spent $7.9 billion last year. The practice has drawn criticism from lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who argue that it diverts money to Wall Street investors instead of to employee pay raises or new investments.
“When you are told that all repurchases are harmful to shareholders or to the country, or particularly beneficial to C.E.O.s, you are listening to either an economic illiterate or a silver-tongued demagogue (characters that are not mutually exclusive),” Mr. Buffett wrote.
He also defended Berkshire’s federal tax bill, amid ongoing criticism that he himself pays little in taxes relative to his overall wealth, which Forbes estimates at $106 billion. In his letter, Mr. Buffett said that Berkshire had paid $32 billion in federal taxes over the past decade, representing a tenth of 1 percent of all taxes that the government collected during that time.
“Had there been roughly 1,000 taxpayers in the U.S. matching Berkshire’s payments, no other businesses nor any of the country’s 131 million households would have needed to pay any taxes to the federal government,” he wrote. “Not a dime.”
Mr. Buffett added a criticism of the federal government for spending significantly more than it collects in taxes, touching on a fight now bubbling in Washington over the debt ceiling. “Huge and entrenched fiscal deficits have consequences,” he wrote.