Buffett celebrates 50th year at Berkshire, faces tough questions
Berkshire Hathaway Inc shareholders on Saturday celebrated Warren Buffett's 50th anniversary running the conglomerate, as the billionaire expressed optimism the company would thrive over the long haul, even after he is gone. Buffett and his second-in-command, Charlie Munger, fielded five hours of questions from shareholders, analysts and journalists at Berkshire's annual meeting, including some that criticized the business practices of firms that Berkshire owns or works with, such as Brazil's 3G Capital. Berkshire holds more than 80 companies including the Burlington Northern railroad, Geico car insurance, Benjamin Moore paint, Dairy Queen ice cream, Fruit of the Loom underwear, and See's candies, and owns more than $115 billion of stocks. Its breadth and depth, which includes $63.7 billion of cash, has given Berkshire a strong balance sheet that Buffett said will help it thrive should the economy, propped up by low interest rates that many expect to rise soon, heads south.
Payrolls to test second quarter climate for Fed
Always top of the data pile, this week will be no exception for the U.S. jobs report with a first interest rate rise likely this year despite a dramatic slowdown in the first quarter. The Federal Reserve has put in place a meeting-by-meeting approach on the timing of its first rate hike since June 2006, making such a decision solely dependent on incoming economic data. "They will need better data to justify a rate hike, and that need is pushing the timing of a policy change ever-deeper into 2015," said Tim Duy, a professor at the University of Oregon and a noted Fed watcher. The Fed has kept rates near zero since late 2008.
U.S. jobs report looms for directionless market
The U.S. stock market has struggled for direction of late, but next week's payroll report could confirm whether the recent weakness in data and stock prices is waning as the weather warms, or the start of a longer-term trend. U.S. data, including on economic growth, have been weak, but are seen as making the Federal Reserve less likely to raise interest rates soon, a view that has lifted market sentiment. "There are a lot of offsetting trends in the market, which is causing a lot of choppy volatility," said Michael Mullaney, chief investment officer at Fiduciary Trust Co in Boston.