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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 March, 2004, 11:59 GMT
Buffett hits out at mutual funds
Warren Buffett
Buffett buys unfashionable stocks and keeps them as they rise
Warren Buffett, one of the world's most successful investors, has taken a swipe at mutual funds and the US tax system.

He also reported a surge in profit at his Berkshire Hathaway company.

In his annual letter to shareholders, Mr Buffett called on mutual funds to appoint "truly independent" directors to look out for investors' rights.

He has previously complained that the actions of fund managers are not scrutinized closely enough, leading to poor returns and over-inflated fees.

Market moves

The US mutual funds industry, which look after the long-term savings of about half of all American households, has been under the microscope as it is investigated for trading abuses.

At the heart of the allegations are the practices of market-timing and late-trading.

Market-timing, where investors exploit outdated prices by rapidly moving in and out of fund shares, is not illegal, but is frowned on in the industry.

Late trading, however, is an illegal practice where fund managers allow big investors to execute overnight trades in fund shares at the previous day's price.

Prosecutors say both practices have allowed Wall Street insiders to profit at the expense of ordinary savers.

Mr Buffett agrees.

"I am on my soapbox now only because the blatant wrongdoing that has occurred has betrayed the trust of so many millions of shareholders," he said.

"Hundreds of industry insiders had to know what was going on, yet none publicly said a word."

He added that the directors of mutual funds now had to "decide whether their job is to work of the owners or the managers."

Tax concerns

The world's second-richest man behind Microsoft's Bill Gates, Mr Buffett called on the administration of US President George W Bush to levy more company taxes.

"We hope our taxes continue to rise in the future - it will mean we are prospering - but we also hope that the rest of corporate America antes up along with us," he said.

His company, meanwhile, seems to be prospering.

An advocate of buying and holding shares, rather than turning them over quickly, Mr Buffett said his Berkshire Hathaway holding company earned $8.2bn (4.4bn) last year, almost double the 2002 figure.

Among the main drivers of growth were the company's insurance and building businesses.

Mr Buffett also revealed that Berkshire had holdings of $12bn in five currencies after he bet against the US dollar because of concerns about the country's widening deficits.

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