© Reuters. Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett walks through the exhibit hall as shareholders gather to hear from the billionaire investor at Berkshire Hathaway Inc’s annual shareholder meeting in Omaha

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Warren Buffett, the billionaire chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc (N:), on Monday called the coronavirus outbreak “scary stuff” but said stocks remain a good long-term investment and that he won’t sell stocks despite the threat of a pandemic.

Speaking on CNBC, Buffett said investors with a 10- to 20-year time horizon and focused on companies’ earnings power will fare well in stocks.

“It is scary stuff,” Buffett said referring to the outbreak. “I don’t think it should affect what you do in stocks.”

Markets worldwide fell on Monday on concern about how the global outbreak of coronavirus, which began in China and has expanded to countries including Italy, South Korea and Iran, could hurt the global economy.

Buffett said investors cannot predict the market’s long-term performance by looking at the daily headlines.

He said Berkshire would “certainly be more inclined” to buy stocks following a selloff, at a time the U.S. economy was “strong, but a little softer” than it was six months ago.

“If you look at the present situation,” he said, “you get more for your money in stocks than bonds.”

Buffett spoke two days after Berkshire said operating profit fell 3% in 2019 to $23.97 billion, hurt by losses from insurance underwriting, while unrealized gains in Apple Inc (O:) and other investments boosted net income to a record $81.42 billion.

Berkshire has more than 90 operating businesses including the BNSF railroad, Geico auto insurer and Dairy Queen ice cream, and Buffett said the outbreak has affected a significant number of them

Buffett said many of the roughly 1,000 Dairy Queens in China are closed, while those that are open “aren’t doing any business to speak of,” while companies such as Johns Manville insulation and Shaw carpeting are seeing supply chain disruptions.

“There’s always trouble coming,” he said. “The real question is where are those businesses going to be in five or 10 years.”

Buffett did acknowledge that the days when the stock price of Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire trounced the broader market are long gone, because Berkshire has gotten so large.

Berkshire has trailed the Standard & Poor’s 500 () over the last decade.

Buffett said Berkshire is unlikely to be in the top 15% or bottom 30% of stock market performers over 10 to 15 years, but will outperform in a down market.

Any long-term outperformance by Berkshire “will be minor, but it will be done in a very very safe manner,” he said.

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2020-02-24