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Warren Buffett plays down rumours he is ready to step down

Tom Rees
The “Oracle of Omaha

American tycoon Warren Buffett has played down speculation that he is putting in place plans to step down as boss of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, insisting that he has “never felt better”.

The “Oracle of Omaha’s” famed annual letter to Berkshire shareholders has become a favourite in the investor calendar but it has attracted heightened interest this year amid rumours that the 87-year-old would unveil plans to step down.

Last month Mr Buffett promoted long-time Berkshire executives Ajit Jain and Greg Abel to vice-chairmen as “part of a move to succession over time”. He also stepped down from the board of food and drinks giant Kraft Heinz on Friday but was tight-lipped on succession yesterday.

The renowned investor used his letter to shareholders to blame high valuations for Berkshire’s recent “drought” of deals but revealed that Donald Trump’s tax cuts had provided a $29bn boost to its war chest to help make “huge acquisitions” this year.

Mr Buffett bemoaned frothy asset prices for curtailing Berkshire’s recent acquisition activity. He admitted that the struggle in finding a “sensible purchase price” had “proved a barrier to virtually all deals” last year.

Buffett-backed Kraft Heinz attempted to snap up London-listed consumers goods giant Unilever in a huge £115bn bid last year and blamed an “ample availability of extraordinarily cheap debt” for fuelling spending sprees, comparing deal-hungry bosses to lustful teenagers.

Prices for “far from spectacular” businesses have climbed to an all-time high and the surge in asset valuations “seemed almost irrelevant to an army of optimistic purchasers”, he claimed.