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Buffett cheers prospects of firm and US

BILLIONAIRE Warren Buffett is optimistic about the prospects for his company and the United States, even though both remain mired in an economic mess he expects to continue for at least another year.

Buffett used his annual letter to reassure Berkshire Hathaway Inc shareholders that the Omaha-based insurance and investment company has the financial strength needed to withstand the current turmoil and improve after the worst of Buffett's 44 years as chairman and CEO.

Buffett wrote that "the economy will be in shambles throughout 2009 and, for that matter, probably well beyond but that conclusion does not tell us whether the stock market will rise or fall."

In between the news of Berkshire's sharply lower profit and a thorough explanation of its largely unrealized US$7.5 billion investment and derivative losses, Buffett offered a hopeful view of America's future.

He said that the country has faced bigger economic challenges in the past, including two World Wars and the Great Depression.

"Though the path has not been smooth, our economic system has worked extraordinarily well over time," Buffett wrote. "It has unleashed human potential as no other system has, and it will continue to do so. America's best days lie ahead."

Buffett's letter appeared to mollify the concerns of many who follow the company, but it's not yet clear whether that will help Berkshire's Class A stock rebound from the new five-year low it set on Monday at US$73,500. On Friday, it closed up US$250 at US$78,600.

"If anything, I feel better than I did before I read it," Morningstar analyst Bill Bergman said. Berkshire's results could have easily been worse, he said.

But Buffett estimates that Berkshire's book value assets minus liabilities fell 9.6 percent to US$70,530 per share in 2008 - the biggest drop since 1965.


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