Feb 24, 2019

Warren Buffett argues government budget deficits don't matter

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Data: Factset: Chart: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Warren Buffett's annual letter to shareholders is out, which is always most interesting when the Oracle of Omaha admits to past mistakes.

Why it matters: Buffett has a lesson, in his letter, for "those who regularly preach doom because of government budget deficits". He admits that he was one of those individuals himself, but he's not any more.

  • Buffett divides America's history into three 77-year periods. The last period happens to coincide with his investing career, which started in 1942 with $114.75 of savings. Buffett was fortunate to begin investing at such an auspicious time, which shortly predated a stunning wartime run-up in America's debt-to-GDP ratio. (In 1942 it was 48%; by 1946 it was 119%.)
  • America did well in its first century and a half. Then, over the course of Buffett's third 77-year period, we contrived to increase our national debt by about 40,000%. "Suppose you had foreseen this increase and panicked at the prospect of runaway deficits and a worthless currency," writes Buffett. "To protect yourself, you might have eschewed stocks and opted instead to buy 3 1⁄4 ounces of gold with your $114.75."
  • Buffett, of course, became the world's richest man by investing that $114.75 extremely well. But even if you simply invested it in the broad stock market, it would have turned into $606,811. Had you invested it in gold, by contrast, your small lump of metal would now be worth just $4,200.

The bottom line: There is no evidence from 240 years of American history that the level of the national debt has ever really mattered. The U.S. prints its own currency, and can borrow as much as it likes, increasingly from domestic investors. Per Buffett, deficit hawks have preached doom for decades. They have never been proven correct.

Go deeper: National debt surpasses $22 trillion

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 665,164 — Total deaths: 30,852 — Total recoveries: 140,225.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 124,665 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

Gilead expands access to experimental coronavirus drug in emergency cases

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day said in an open letter Saturday the company is expanding access to its experimental anti-coronavirus drug remdesivir to include severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness the treatment of the novel coronavirus has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

Go deeperArrow3 hours ago - Health