Buffett lauds immigrants for helping grow US

Mr Buffett's annual letter to shareholders comes amid the anti-immigrant stance of the Trump White House.
Mr Buffett's annual letter to shareholders comes amid the anti-immigrant stance of the Trump White House.

WASHINGTON • Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has used his annual company letter to laud immigrants and their contribution to the growth of the US economy amid President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant stance.

"Americans have combined human ingenuity, a market system, a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants, and the rule of law to deliver abundance beyond any dreams of our forefathers," he wrote in the letter last Saturday to shareholders of his massive Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate.

The annual missive from the 86-year-old investor - the world's third-wealthiest person, according to Forbes magazine - is pored over for clues to the thinking of the "Oracle of Omaha", who lives and works in the Nebraska city.

Mr Buffett steered clear of any mention of the Republican President, who took office on Jan 20.

The letter came as the United States grapples with a sharp controversy over Mr Trump's anti-immigrant policies and his crackdown on the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the country.

Mr Buffett had supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in her bid to win the White House last year. He offered to release his tax returns if Mr Trump - who had batted off calls for him to release his tax records - did the same, and compared Mr Trump's business skills to that of a monkey.

After the election, Mr Buffett told CNN that Mr Trump "deserves everybody's respect".

Mr Buffett's letter accompanied Berkshire Hathaway's release of its 2016 fourth-quarter and full- year earnings.

The company reported net profit of US$6.3 billion (S$8.8 billion) in the October-December period, a gain of nearly 15 per cent from a year ago. For all of 2016, net profit came in at US$24.1 billion, slightly lower than the prior year.

Berkshire, which has stakes in Kraft Heinz, Coca-Cola and a number of other companies, and recently invested in Apple, has benefited from the Wall Street rally after Mr Trump's election.

Mr Buffett said Berkshire gained US$27.5 billion in net worth last year.

Mr Buffett also glanced off a few other Trump talking points in his letter - offering a much more optimistic take than the President. Where Mr Trump has railed about foreigners subsuming American debt and assets - "they suck the blood right out of our country," he once said of China - Mr Buffett was sanguine.

"Foreigners, of course, own or have claims on a modest portion of our wealth. Those holdings, however, are of little importance to our national balance sheet," the billionaire investor wrote.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Buffett lauds immigrants for helping grow US'. Print Edition | Subscribe