The economy may have suffered a huge jolt, but "when [the patient] gets going again, he'll be setting tremendous records. That patient is a terrific athlete," famed investor Warren Buffett told ABC News today.
All recessions are a jolt to the economic system, but "this one was a real shake. It really shook up the confidence of the American public," the Berkshire Hathaway CEO told ABC News. "We know that it will be over, but we can't predict the timing."
Buffett gave his first one-on-one interview to ABC News after telling a record crowd of 35,000 at the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting that he took the company's recent ratings downgrade as a personal blow.
Berkshire has taken a hit this year and last, the worst year under Buffett's leadership. The company was recently downgraded from its AAA credit rating to AA, according to Moody's Investors Service. S&P, another ratings service, did not downgrade Berkshire.
"The AAA is not going to be material to Berkshire," he said, "but it still irritates me."
"As far as I'm concerned, Berkshire is still a AAA-rated company," he said.
Buffett says Berkshire Hathaway will report a roughly 10 percent drop in its first-quarter operating profit next week.
Berkshire will not release its first quarter earnings report until Friday, but Buffett said it will report an operating profit of about $1.7 billion.
A year ago, Berkshire reported $1.9 billion in operating profit for the first quarter. Berkshire finished this quarter with $22.7 billion cash, Reuters reported.
During the meeting, Buffett expressed the support for the government's actions to help the economy recover.
"Overall, I commend the actions taken," he said. "It's hard to expect perfection from people who work 20-hour days and are punched from all sides. Overall they did a very very good job."
Buffett and vice chairman Charlie Munger answered questions from both the audience and, for the first time, e-mails in today's daylong annual shareholder meeting.
"It's unreasonable to expect perfect ideas during crisis situation like this," he said. "Of course there's going to be some government reactions that are foolish; some accounting rules and standards are insane. The government in September of last year really faced a situation as close to full meltdown as you can imagine. The credit market was frozen, money markets were declining. We were really looking into the abyss."
But Buffett remains sympathetic to the "good banks," singling out Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase. Berkshire owns a stake in Wells Fargo.
He was asked about the banking sector, specifically for his reaction to news that Wells Fargo chairman Richard Kovacevich indicated he didn't want TARP funds and thought the government's intrusive actions were counterproductive.
"I'm sympathetic to Wells CEO Kovacevich who was told to take TARP money and only had an hour to decide what to do. But that's the nature of an emergency," he said. "All banks aren't alike by a long shot."
Buffett told ABC News in an exclusive interview that the 19 banks that have received the most money from TARP "are doing really well under the circumstances. ... No one needs to worry about the money that's in those banks."