Buffett says U.S. bank deposits are safe and the government would backstop all of them if necessary

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Warren Buffett said Americans should not be concerned about their bank deposits in the wake of the latest financial shock in the sector and the government would ensure no depositor in this country lost a dime.

“People shouldn’t be worried about losing the money and the deposits they have in an American bank, and today, they have no reason to worry,” said the Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO in an interview with Becky Quick from Tokyo on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Wednesday. “But the message has gotten very confused and people don’t really understand how it all works.”

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The banking sector went through a brief panic in March as depositors fled Silicon Valley Bank, which had mismanaged its bond portfolio and was overly leveraged to the tech industry. Fear grew that depositors with more than the $250,000 FDIC insurance limit would lose their money. But over the weekend on March 12, the government backstopped all depositors in SVB, along with those in Signature Bank, no matter the amount they had with the banks.

Buffett said the government would likely step in to backstop all depositors in all U.S. banks if that was ever necessary, though he did note that would require Congressional approval.

“We’ll get the OK,” he said when asked if Congress would approve that extraordinary action. Buffett noted that Congress would also adjust the debt ceiling for this to take place in order to avoid financial ruin for the country.

The banks closures have set off a crisis of confidence among investors and customers as they questioned whether other financial institutions could face the same fate. Bank stocks largely tumbled in March as investors grew skittish on the sector, with the selloff specifically focused on regional banks amid liquidity concerns. To restore confidence, 11 banks put $30 billion in deposits in First Republic Bank, whose shares have tumbled during the shock.

Buffett noted that shareholders may lose out if more bank failures occur and rightly so, but depositors shouldn’t be worried.

Buffett’s father

Bank closures are an issue that’s impacted Buffett personally, he said, with his dad losing his job and savings in the 1930s when the bank he worked at failed.

But things have changed in a positive way since the Great Depression in terms of regulations and knowledge of bank runs and what such things can do to a financial system. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was created during the Great Depression.

Buffett, 92, said he so confident that U.S. depositors are safe that he would put a million dollars of his own money in a bank and challenged someone else to do the same. He said he will give that money to charity at the end of the year if just one American lost their deposits through a bank closure, but he keeps the other person’s money if U.S. depositors remain whole.

“If any American depositor has lost money from a bank failure, the other soul gets to name where the $2 million goes, to what charity,” he said. “If they haven’t, I get the payment. And that’s a firm offer, and we’ll see who steps up.”

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