After a tumultuous week of violent lurches higher (but mostly lower), the S&P 500 has ended April with its worst start to a year since the start of World War 2…
Vacation bookings are soaring, car sales are booming and Americans continue to spend with abandon, thanks to higher wages and brisk hiring; and yet, the economy unexpectedly contracted in the first quarter, led by trade deficits and a drop in inventory purchases.
“The market is worried about a very fragile economic outlook, as it should be,” said Joe LaVorgna, chief Americas economist at Natixis and former Trump White House economic adviser.
“The economy is fundamentally soft: The Fed is going to hike next week, the situation in Ukraine is not getting better and high inflation is cutting into costs.”
All this chaos and divergence appears to have ‘triggered’ 91-year-old Warren Buffett who lambasted Wall Street for encouraging speculative behavior in the stock market, effectively turning it into a “gambling parlor.”
Having announced that Berkshire Hathaway suffered a $1.58 billion loss in the first quarter of 2022 (a huge reversal from the nearly $5 billion gain it saw at the same period of 2021), Buffett spoke at length during his annual shareholder meeting Saturday about one of his favorite targets for criticism: investment banks and brokerages.
“Wall Street makes money, one way or another, catching the crumbs that fall off the table of capitalism,” Buffett said.
“They don’t make money unless people do things, and they get a piece of them. They make a lot more money when people are gambling than when they are investing.”
Buffett bemoaned that large American companies have “became poker chips” for market speculation. As CNBC reports, he cited soaring use of call options, saying that brokers make more money from these bets than simple investing.
Still, the situation can result in market dislocations that give Berkshire Hathaway an opportunity, he said:
“That’s why markets do crazy things, and occasionally Berkshire gets a chance to do something.”
98-year-old Charlie Munger also chimed in, warning that “It’s almost a mania of speculation.”
“We have people who know nothing about stocks being advised by stock brokers who know even less,” Munger said.
“It’s an incredible, crazy situation. I don’t think any wise country would want this outcome. Why would you want your country’s stock to trade on a casino?”
CNBC noted that an audience member made an inaudible comment while he was talking.
“Was that a banker screaming?” Buffett joked.
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