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Warren Buffett: You have to be careful on how you bet on America

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett discusses the uncertainty surrounding the stock market.

Video Transcript

WARREN BUFFETT: I don't know-- and perhaps with a bias, I don't believe anybody knows-- what the market is going to do tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. I know America is going to move forward over time, but I don't know for sure. And we learned this on September 10, 2001, and we learned it a few months ago in terms of the virus. Anything can happen in terms of markets.

And you can bet on America, but you have to be careful about how you bet, simply because markets can do anything. On October whatever it was in 1987-- October 11 I believe, Monday, the markets went down 22% in one day. In 1914, they closed the stock market for about four months. After 9/11, closed the market for four days, we hustled to get it going again.

But nobody knows what's going to happen tomorrow. So when I tell you to bet on America and I tell you that that's what's really gotten me through ever since I bought my first stock when I was 11, I mean, this-- I caught a huge, huge, huge tailwind in America. But it didn't-- wasn't going to blow in my direction every single day. And you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow.

And I would like to, in the context of the present news, point out something I find kind of interesting. If you go to YouTube, you'll find on June 17 of 2015-- four-plus years ago-- you'll find Sam Nunn, who's one of the people I admire the most in the United States and the world-- enormous patriot, tremendous senator, and he's carried on thankless work since leaving the Senate in heading something called the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which most of you haven't heard of, but I've been slightly involved in it. Sam Nunn founded that.

And the Nuclear Threat Initiative is simply organizations that are devoted to trying to reduce the chances of something of a nuclear, chemical, biological, and now cyber nature from either malevolent or accidental or whatever it may be-- from causing deaths to millions of Americans. And among the things-- and Sam co-founded it, but he's been the heart and soul of the organization subsequently. And they talked about, worried about pandemics along with the nuclear threat for decades. And he's participated in war games where they play out various scenarios, including malevolent pandemics that could be started by the same kind of nut that sent the anthrax letters around 9/11-- a little after.

And Sam turned on this YouTube presentation, and I'm sure he's been on many others, I just happened to look this one up. And he talked about the dangers of a pandemic. And anybody should listen to Sam Nunn any time he talks. So he said at that time, germs don't have borders, which we've certainly learned in the last couple of months. And when I clicked on YouTube, if you'll go to the next, I found out recently it had 831 views. And this was only a few days ago I looked it up. And maybe-- I don't know whether most of those views had been in the last few days-- or the last few months, I should say, because of the interest in pandemics.

But it is hard to think about things that haven't happened yet. And so we can experience, you know, when something like the current pandemic happens, it's just-- it's hard to factor that in. And that's why you never want to use borrowed money-- and at least in my view, a margin to buy into investments. And we run Berkshire that way. We run it so that we literally try to think of the worst case of not only just one thing going wrong, but other things going wrong at the same time-- maybe partly caused by the first, but maybe independent, even, of the first.

And you know, you learned in, I don't know what grade now, probably earlier than when I went to school-- in fifth or sixth grade that anything-- you can have any series of numbers times zero, and you just need one zero in there and the answer is zero. And there is no reason to use borrowed money to participate in the American tailwind, but there's every other reason to participate.