Discuss as:

Warren Buffett: We've always had a preferred successor

Now is a good time to buy a home and finance it with a 30-year mortgage, says Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway chairman/CEO. Buffett discusses why he wants to invest in more businesses, explains why he bought eight European stocks at the end of 2011 ...

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett says Berkshire Hathaway's plan at some point to replace him hasn't really changed.

Buffett said on CNBC Monday that the new language he used to describe the succession plan in his annual letter to Berkshire shareholders wasn't a sign of change. The 81-year-old says he was trying to clarify the plan.

He said in his letter released Saturday that Berkshire's board had chosen someone to succeed him as CEO someday, and it has two backup candidates. Previously, Buffett had said only that the company had three internal candidates. None of them have been identified.

Buffett said the board has always had a preferred candidate and two backups.

He also said the unemployment rate, currently at around 8.3 percent, is unlikely to tick back up to 9 percent.

Buffett said Berkshire's businesses not related to housing are hiring and Berkshire as a whole is likely to have more employees at year's end than at the start of the year. 

He said last year's departure of a top executive, David Sokol, did not affect the board's choice for successor. Nor had Sokol been his designated successor, he added.

An investigation into Sokol over stock trading while he was at the company appears to be ongoing. Sokol, one of Buffett's star lieutenants and long presumed to be his successor, left Berkshire last year amid questions of improper stock trading.

The episode prompted inquiries from securities regulators and was a black mark on Buffett's track record, but there was no mention at all in his summation of the year.

Buffett's comments on Saturday about the hunt for his successor helped to ease some shareholder concern about the future of the company once the famed 81-year-old investor steps down as chief executive.

While Buffett is in his 80s, he is known to be in good health and has made clear he does not plan to step down from running the company any time soon.

Buffett has been at the helm of Berkshire for 47 years. He controls a conglomerate that employs more than 270,000 people worldwide in dozens of businesses ranging from railroads and electric utilities to ice cream and underwear.

Buffett also said newspapers need to stop giving away their product for free online, but they will have a decent future if they continue delivering information that can't be found elsewhere.

Buffett talked about the news business on CNBC Monday because his Berkshire Hathaway owns two newspapers and has a sizeable investment in the Washington Post Co.

Buffett said newspapers face challenges because of competition from Internet news sources and the rising cost of newsprint. He said newspapers need to make sure they remain the primary source of information about subjects readers are interested in.

He was being interviewed in front of the Omaha World-Herald's printing presses. Buffett's Berkshire bought the World-Herald late last year.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.