Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has more than $19 billion invested in U.S. banks, said the lenders have ample liquidity and are a class apart from European rivals.
“I would put European banks and American banks in two very different categories,” Buffett, Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive officer, said today at the firm’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. “The American banking system is in fine shape. The European system was gasping for air a few months back” before getting assistance from the European Central Bank.
Wells Fargo & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. posted record profits last year and their CEOs are contesting efforts by U.S. policy makers to strengthen banking regulations. European banks have struggled amid the continent’s sovereign debt crisis and turned to the ECB, starting in December, for extraordinary three-year loans at interest rates of 1 percent.
“I’d like to have a lot of money for three years at 1 percent, but I’m not in trouble,” said Buffett, 81. U.S. banks have “liquidity coming out their ears.”
Berkshire, which Buffett has led for 42 years, is the biggest shareholder of San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, with a more than $12 billion stake. Buffett injected $5 billion into Bank of America Corp. last year in exchange for preferred stock and warrants. Berkshire’s shareholding of U.S. Bancorp was valued at $2.2 billion as of yesterday.