Buffett Says Euro Faces `Real Challenge' After Currency's Rally
Billionaire Warren Buffett, who last month called himself “a huge bull” on the U.S., said the euro faces “a real challenge” after the currency posted its biggest quarterly gain in eight years.
“This is a test, and I would say the test has not yet been passed,” Buffett said in previously recorded remarks presented yesterday at a conference outside Tel Aviv. “I’d rather watch it from afar than nearby.”
The euro gained 11 percent in the three months ended Sept. 30 as the European Union addressed the region’s fiscal crisis with a 750 billion euro ($1.04 trillion) rescue fund. That bailout may not resolve the problems posed by differences among the 16-nation currency bloc, said Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s chief executive officer.
“There’s a real challenge when you try to get a large group of countries with different cultures, different attitudes toward fiscal policy, to share a common currency,” Buffett, 80, said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting one to watch.”
Buffett didn’t respond to a request for comment e-mailed to his assistant, Carrie Kizer.
The third-quarter rally in the euro partly reversed declines that started in early 2010 as investors speculated that Greece and other euro-zone countries could default on their debts. Investors have returned to the currency, which dropped as low as $1.1877 on June 7, as default concerns subsided and the U.S. economy slowed. The euro slipped 0.21 cents to $1.3867 yesterday.
Buffett, who has previously bet against the dollar, warned investors at Berkshire’s annual meeting in May about the risks of common currencies. Buffett said then that countries run a higher risk of defaulting when they give up the ability to set monetary policy. “You don’t default when you can print your own” money, Buffett said in May. The European Central Bank, based in Frankfurt, sets the policy for the euro.
“Warren Buffett’s perspective tends to be much, much longer term -- it’s clear that the strategic problems in the euro zone have not been resolved,” said Boris Schlossberg, director of research at online currency trader GFT Forex in New York. “The danger still very much exists that the fiscal crisis in the periphery could definitely come back to haunt the euro.”
Europe’s sovereign debt crisis took hold at the end of 2009 after a new government in Greece said the budget deficit was twice as big as the previous administration disclosed. Germany contributed the biggest share of Europe’s rescue package, driving 53 percent of its citizens to regard the euro as a “bad thing,” according to a June poll by the German Marshall Fund of the U.S.
Berkshire, which Buffett built through four decades of stock picks and takeovers, generates revenue in dollars from units including Fruit of the Loom, Clayton Homes and Geico Corp. The company also gets dollar-denominated dividends from its U.S. equity portfolio of more than $40 billion. Buffett made what he called an “all-in wager” on the U.S. with the $27 billion purchase of railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe in February.
In 2005 and 2006, Buffett unwound bets against the dollar that he had called a “very long-term” position. Berkshire’s so-called foreign-currency forward contracts fell to $1.1 billion at the end of the September 2006 from $21.5 billion in June 2005. The contracts allowed for the purchase of foreign currencies on a future date at a preset price.
“We might see him doing currencies again,” said Gerald Martin, a finance professor at American University’s Kogod School of Business in Washington. “He may think that the euro’s gotten too strong and there’s more than likely only one way to go.”
Foreign currency contracts, which produced gains of $1.84 billion for Berkshire in 2004 and losses of $955 million in 2005, weren’t disclosed in a derivative table in the company’s last annual report. Berkshire, which holds derivatives tied to equity indexes and the creditworthiness of companies, posted gains of $122 million last year on what it called “other” derivative contracts.
In this year’s second quarter, Berkshire became the biggest shareholder of Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurer. Buffett’s firm held a stake of the Munich-based company valued at about 1.67 billion euros as of June 22, according to Bloomberg data.
To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Frye in New York at email@example.com; Catarina Saraiva in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org; Alisa Odenheimer in Tel Aviv at email@example.com