Investing legend Warren Buffett believes there could be more bank failures down the road, but depositors should not ever be worried.
“We’re not over bank failures, but depositors haven’t had a crisis,” the Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO told CNBC’s Becky Quick on “Squawk Box” Wednesday from Tokyo. “Banks go bust. But depositors aren’t going to be hurt.”
The collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank last month — the second- and third-largest bank failures in U.S. history, respectively — prompted extraordinary rescue action from regulators, who backstopped all deposits in the failed lenders and provided an additional funding facility for troubled banks.
The “Oracle of Omaha” said some of the “dumb” things that banks do periodically became uncovered during this period, including having mismatched assets and liabilities as well as questionable accounting.
“Bankers have been tempted to do that forever,” Buffett said. “Accounting procedures have driven some bankers to do some things that have helped their current earnings a little bit and caused the recurring temptation to get a little bit bigger spread on record, a little more than earnings.”
Buffett said that some bankers will continue this behavior and that will put the shareholders in some of the stocks at risk.
But the 92-year-old investor said there was unnecessary fear and panic about depositors losing their money, when the system is set up to protect the entire nation’s deposits.
“The costs of the [Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.] are borne by the banks. Banks have never cost the federal government a dime. The public doesn’t understand that,” said Buffett. “Nobody is going to lose money on a deposit in a U.S. bank. It’s not going to happen … you don’t need to turn a dumb decision by managers into a panicking the whole citizenry of the United States about something they don’t need to be panicked about.”
He stressed that it’s crucial that banks retain the confidence of the public and they can lose that confidence in seconds, as highlighted in the recent blowup.
Buffett has been a white knight for troubled banks in the past. He famously came to Goldman Sachs‘ rescue with a $5 billion cash infusion after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. In 2011, Buffett injected $5 billion into then-beleaguered Bank of America in a major show of faith.