Buffett and Blankfein: US Economy Faces 'Tough' Times Ahead

Tuesday, 12 Jun 2012 05:30 PM

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The U.S. economy is due to face some tough times ahead, say prominent investor Warren Buffett and Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein.

"I think we're in a tough position for the next three, four, five months," Blankfein tells MSNBC's "Morning Joe," appearing alongside Buffett.

'We've been in a lot tougher position, and the economy is not horrible; it's just not growing the way it should and there's just a lot of uncertainty," Blankfein adds.

The U.S. economy is showing signs of softening. In its latest jobs report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the country added a net 69,000 nonfarm jobs to the economy in May. By comparison, January and February added 275,000 and 259,000 net jobs, respectively.

Meanwhile, gross domestic product grew a lackluster 1.9 percent in the first quarter, down from an initial estimate of 2.2 percent, according to official data.

Americans are headed to the polls in November to elect a president, and businesses often put investments on hold during an election to see who wins and if any policy changes will ensue.

"People are looking at the election going forward—whichever side you're on—and saying, 'I just don't know what I'm going to have, I don't know what my net is going to be after taxes, I don't know what regulations are going to be, I don't know what the result is, except that it's going to be very consequential, so I think I'll wait,'" Blankfein says.

Buffett, meanwhile, points out that while many sectors of the economy are showing signs of improvement, the housing sector continues to drag on the recovery.

"We've been recovering at a slow rate since the fall of 2009," Buffett says.

"We have this enormous housing overhang. I mean, you have one big sector of the economy that has not yet come back. I see a few signs that it's coming back, but we just have too many houses around," Buffett says.

"Fortunately we have household formations in this country," Buffett adds. "That's when things will speed up—when we really get household formation and housing units in balance."

The elections and other uncertainties such as a weak economy or the European debt crisis aren't holding back Buffett's investment vehicle, Berkshire Hathaway, from expanding this year, however.

Many other corporations are sitting on massive cash stockpiles and are unwilling to invest in job-creating new projects on fear a lack of demand will make such ventures unprofitable.

"I don't buy it. At Berkshire Hathaway we're going to spend eight and a fraction billion on capital expenditures this year. That will be a record, a billion more than last year, and last year was a record," Buffett says.

Other experts are predicting moderate growth with some headwinds, including the Economic Advisory Committee of the American Bankers Association. The economy should grow 2.2 percent in 2012 compared with 1.6 percent in 2011, the committee finds.

The European debt crisis could flare up, while in the U.S., tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year at the same time automatic spending cuts are set to kick in, a combination often referred to as a “fiscal cliff” that could derail recovery if not addressed soon.

Don't expect a surge in employment, either.

"Although economic growth will pick up, downside risks have become more pronounced," George Mokrzan, committee chairman and Huntington Bank chief economist, says in a statement. "Our consensus forecast is that the economy isn't growing rapidly enough to push the unemployment rate below 8 percent by year-end."

The jobless rate ticked up to 8.2 percent in May.

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