Warren Buffett Warning In CNBC Interview: Recession Possible If Unemployment Picks Up Significantly


In a live interview this afternoon on CNBC with Hillary Clinton standing by his side, Warren Buffett again warned that the U.S. could fall into recession, if unemployment increases significantly. But he said he's not sure that will happen and he's been surprised that the employment market has held up as well as it has so far. The interview followed a San Francisco fund-raiser for Senator Clinton's presidential bid.

His comments echo what he told Becky Quick earlier today in a separate live CNBC interview.

Here's a video clip of the joint Clinton-Buffett interview, as it aired on CNBC's Fast Money.

Becky: Obviously the big question on the market's minds today, what happened today after the Fed decision. The Fed cutting by only 25 basis points. The market closing down by almost 300 points. Senator Clinton, there are some people out there who are saying the Fed is not doing enough to help the economy. What do you think?

Clinton: Well, look, I think the Fed is doing the best they can given the complex of problems they're facing. We have multiple issues we have to deal with. Some of them, frankly, are not the Fed's responsibility. They're what we need to do in the Federal government to get back to more fiscal responsibility and to deal with some of the extraordinary increase in debt, and our trade deficit and all the rest of it. So, you know, if you look at the full range of issues that we're confronting here, the Fed's obviously trying to navigate through. And, you know, I'm confident that, you know, we'll see some, you know, other actions being taken. But obviously I think more should be done. More leadership should be provided and that's one of the reasons I'm running for President.

Becky: Warren, we asked you about this earlier today. There are some people who now think we are heading for a recession. Do you think that?

Buffett: Well, I think it could happen, sure. I think if unemployment picks up significantly there will be some dominoes that topple from that. I don't know if unemployment will pick up significantly. I mean, frankly, I've been a little surprised that it's stayed at 4.7 percent. If we can keep people employed, we will not have the dominoes topple. If unemployment picked up a lot, I think we could be in for a recession.

Becky: And Warren, let me ask you this. Do you think the government should be doing more right now to try and stave off a recession?

Buffett: Well, I can see where (Federal Reserve Chairman Ben) Bernanke is looking at a lot of information including the employment figures. And inflation has to be a real worry with him, when you have the dollar falling the way it has. When you have people, to some extent, around the world losing some confidence in it, and how they might react if interest rates were terribly low. It's not an easy question. And I do not think, I have no feeling that I could be doing a better job than the chairman.

Becky: Senator Clinton, we've talked earlier today with Mr. Buffett about his thoughts on the death tax, the estate tax, all loaded ways of looking at this depending on which side of this you are coming from. I know that he's somebody that you look to for tax guidance as well. Where do you come down on that tax?

Clinton: Well, I do not believe the estate tax should be repealed. I think it has been very cleverly designated as a death tax. It's really a tax to prevent us from having inheritated wealth generation after generation, which would really undermine the kind of spirit and meritocracy that the United States stands for. And there are a lot of economic reasons why it's just not affordable. I think we can raise the exemption level and I'm in favor of that. But, I will strongly support the maintenance of the estate tax.

Becky: The House is going to be considering the AMT tomorrow. Do you believe that the AMT should be passed without consideration for pay-as-you-go?

Clinton: Well, I really regret that the Republicans in the Senate filibustered what was an effort to pay for what we need to do with the AMT. I have voted continuously over several years to try and fix the AMT. Unfortunately, the Bush administration didn't see the increase of taxation on people that were never intended to be under this tax as a particular priority and they would never work with us to try to make those fixes. So we're going to have to fix it because it's not fair to hit these millions of taxpayers with this extra tax. I hope we can do it in a way that tries at least to give us a down-payment on what we hope to be doing to return to fiscal responsibility.

Becky: But if that's the case, and we're cutting the government's receipts that they're taking in, where should we be raising taxes on someone else?

Clinton: Well, look, we need to end the war in Iraq. You know, we need to bring those dollars home. We've got a president who took us to war and refused to pay for it. We have a president whose second priority after the war in Iraq was tax cuts for people like Bill (Gates) and me and Warren. So we have to reorder our priorities. And everybody always jumps to say, well, what are we going to do about the lost revenue. Well, what have they been saying for the last seven years? We went from a balanced budget with a surplus with a great economy during the 90s, into deficits, increasing debt and stagnation. Because even though unemployment has remained, you know, fairly constant, the labor force participation has decreased. So people have stopped looking for work.

So, we can do a lot better if we get back to policies that are kind of returning us to funademntals to get this economy going and have shared prosperity again.

Becky: Now Warren, we've talked about this in the past. You've obviously done a lot to try to raise money today for Senator Clinton, over a million dollars, a very successful fund-raiser. But you've also said you're supporting Barack Obama. Is there a point where you're going to choose between these two candidates?

Buffett: Before, way before, either one of them declared, I told Hillary if she ran for president, I would support her. I told Barack the same thing, and then they both ran. (Laughs.) So, there I am. (Laughs.)

Becky: Senator Clinton, would you consider Barack Obama as a running mate?

Clinton: Oh, I'm just focused on actually getting the nomination first. (Laughter.) I've got a lot to do and I'm doing it and working hard, but I'm thrilled to have Warren's support and this was a great event. People flew in, not only from nearby, but from across the country and we had a great representation of all ages, all kinds of backgrounds. People are concerned about the economy and a lot of people think that, you know, Warren Buffet knows what he's talking about, and I'm one of those. (Laughter.)

Questions? Comments? Email me at buffettwatch@cnbc.com