Buffett says trade war would be ‘bad for the whole world’

Businessman speaks after US president says he is to raise tariffs on Chinese imports

Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett at its  annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, last week. Photograph: Scott Morgan/Reuters

Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett at its annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, last week. Photograph: Scott Morgan/Reuters

 

Warren Buffett said on Monday that a trade war between the US and China would be “bad for the whole world.”

The chairman and largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway spoke after US president Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday that he will raise tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports to 25 per cent from 10 per cent beginning on Friday, and “shortly” slap a 25 per cent tariff on $325 billion of Chinese goods that have not been taxed.

Major stock markets fell worldwide on Monday in response to the president’s tweet, which was a “rational” response, Mr Buffett said on CNBC television.

His conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway owns or invests in many companies that do business in China, including Apple in which it has a more than $50 billion stake.

“If we actually have a trade war it will be bad for the whole world,” Mr Buffett said. “With some people in negotiations, the best technique is to act half-crazy.”

A full-scale trade war “would be bad for everything Berkshire owns,” Mr Buffett added, though the probability it might happen is low.

Ineffective

Mr Buffett said tough talk ahead of negotiations was understandable, but that it was ineffective to “shake your fist first and then shake your finger later on.” He added that Mr Trump’s threat raises the stakes for Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

“You’re talking about two personalities who are very much used to getting their way in politics, and talking about how they will be perceived in their own country in terms of their behaviour,” he said. “It gets very complicated.”

Mr Buffett said the trade dispute has already had an effect on Berkshire’s BNSF railroad.

Last week, Jim Weber, the chief executive of Berkshire’s Brooks Running unit, said in an interview that his company was ending most of its shoe production in China and moving it to Vietnam because of tariff concerns.

Mr Buffett nonetheless said the problems will not affect how Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire operates. “We will buy the same stocks today that we were buying last week,” he said.

Berkshire ended March with $191.8 billion of equity investments. It also owns more than 90 companies including energy and utility companies, the Geico auto insurer and the Dairy Queen ice cream chain.

- Reuters