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Warren Buffett in New York City in 2017. Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Warren Buffett called progress in America "slow, uneven and often discouraging," but retained his long-term optimism in the country, in his closely watched annual shareholder letter released Saturday morning.

Why it matters: It breaks months of uncharacteristic silence from the 90-year-old billionaire Berkshire Hathaway CEO — as the fragile economy coped with the pandemic and the U.S. saw a contentious presidential election.

What they're saying: "We retain our constitutional aspiration of becoming 'a more perfect union.' Progress on that front has been slow, uneven and often discouraging. We have, however, moved forward and will continue to do so," Buffett wrote.

  • "Our unwavering conclusion: Never bet against America."

Of note: Buffett said Berkshire's annual meeting — long an Omaha, Nebraska-based event that typically draws thousands of shareholders — will be held in Los Angeles this year.

  • It will be virtual again, as it was last year.
  • Buffett, who has received both doses of the vaccine, said he hopes to convene the in-person event in 2022.

Other highlights from the letter:

On the bond market: "Bonds are not the place to be these days ... Fixed-income investors worldwide – whether pension funds, insurance companies or retirees – face a bleak future."

On economy: "Despite some severe interruptions, our country’s economic progress has been breathtaking."

On energy: "[O]ur country’s electric utilities need a massive makeover in which the ultimate costs will be staggering."

Other details: Buffett's letter came alongside financial results for his sprawling business empire, which owns GEICO, BNSF Railway, Dairy Queen and more.

  • Soaring prices in the company's stock bets — including its 5% stake in Apple — helped overall profit.
  • But operating profit — which excludes those gains — came in at $21.9 billion for 2020, a 9% decline from the previous year.

Between the lines: Berkshire Hathaway has increasingly bought back more of its own stock in recent years — with hints of more to come.

  • It spent $24.7 billion in 2020 on share repurchases, a record for the company.
  • On buybacks, Buffett borrowed a line from late Hollywood star Mae West: “Too much of a good thing can be ... wonderful.”

Go deeper

House votes to ban imports from Xinjiang over forced labor concerns

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The House voted 428-1 on Wednesday to pass a bill that would ban all imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang unless the U.S. government determines that the products were not made with forced labor.

Why it matters: Both the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as several foreign parliaments, have recognized China's repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as genocide.

Mark Meadows sues Pelosi, Jan. 6 committee

Then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows speaks with reporters after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Nov. 18, 2020. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and all nine members of the Jan. 6 select committee on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The move comes less than a day after the committee moved to hold Meadows in contempt for refusing to cooperate with its investigation of the Capitol riots.

2 hours ago - Technology

The four key moments from Instagram's Hill hearing

Adam Mosseri. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Instagram head Adam Mosseri testified before Senate lawmakers Wednesday and was pressed on the app's impacts on young children and teens.

Why it matters: Legislation to protect kids online is one area Congress has shown it's willing to regulate, as Axios previously reported. Wednesday's back-and-forth gave momentum to lawmakers eager to make more rules for social media platforms and how children and teens can use them.