By Mark DeCambre, MarketWatch
Warren Buffett, the iconic billionaire chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, says he’s playing it by ear when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak that has spread rapidly to more than 100 countries world-wide after it was first identified in Wuhan, China in December.
Yahoo Finance Editor in Chief Andy Serwer quoted a Berkshire employee /zigman2/quotes/208872451/composite BRK.A +1.62% /zigman2/quotes/200060694/composite BRK.B +1.69% as saying that Buffett had gone to his office in Omaha, Neb., on Saturday but was expected to work from home for a day or so. But the employee noted that the investor’s plans going forward would be “on a day-by-day basis.”
Buffett turns 90 in August and, according to recent research, is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the infectious disease that is derived from the novel coronavirus that has infected nearly 174,000 people globally and claimed some 6,700 lives thus far, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University as of Monday morning.
According to research from medical journal JAMA , which analyzed data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of COVID-19 in those aged 70 to 79 years had an 8% fatality rate and those aged 80 years and older had a fatality rate of 14.8%.
The fatality rate also was greater depending on whether the person had underlying illnesses like heart disease or diabetes.
Buffett last week told Berkshire shareholders that the company’s May 2 annual meeting would go ahead online, but that shareholders wouldn’t be able to attend in person — effectively canceling the annual pilgrimage to Omaha that investors have dubbed “Woodstock for Capitalists.”
“It is now clear…that large gatherings can pose a health threat to the participants and the greater community. We won’t ask this of our employees and we won’t expose Omaha to the possibility of becoming a ‘hot spot’ in the current pandemic,” Buffett wrote in a letter to shareholders.
Buffett’s staff has said he’s feeling 100%.
The Berkshire chairman told Yahoo Finance during a Tuesday interview that he was taking precautions as per his doctor’s advice but was still planning on going on a trip that he had previously scheduled.
“But my doctor does tell me, don’t do a lot of traveling into big crowds, and everything. But I have one trip scheduled now, and I’m not changing it,” he said.
Meanwhile, markets have been unraveled amid uncertainties surrounding the economic impacts from the pandemic and efforts intended to limit its spread. Those include school closures, government-recommended lockdowns, bans on large gatherings and employees and many major companies urging their staff to work from home.
Indeed, the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +1.39% , the S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.64% and the Nasdaq Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP +0.52% were all down by around 8% Monday, after markets skidded lower out of the gate Monday and triggered a Stage 1 circuit breaker that halts trading for 15 minutes when the S&P 500 falls by 7%.
Buffett is one of the most recognizable CEOs in the world, but he isn’t expected to oversee Berkshire forever.
Berkshire chairmen Greg Abel and Ajit Jain have been discussed as possible Buffett successors, when he decides to step down.