NEW YORK, March 1 Reuters) - Warren Buffett said the U.S. economy has passed the worst of its troubles but faces an uneven recovery as consumers keep a tight rein on spending.
We got past Pearl Harbor, Buffett said Monday on the CNBC business news channel. We will win the war.
But he said business remains slow in many areas, including at his insurance and investment company Berkshire Hathaway Inc
He also said consumers must fend off out of control health care costs, a national emergency that is a tapeworm eating at the economy. Buffett called on lawmakers in Washington to adopt reforms that would restrict costs more than any current proposal does.
Even as the economy improves, Buffett said it may not make stocks more attractive to buy. He lamented not buying more aggressively last March, when stocks were hitting decade lows.
My enthusiasm for stocks is in direct proportion to how far they go down, he said. Stocks are a lot less attractive now than they were a year ago.
Buffett spoke two days after Berkshire published its annual report, including Buffett's widely read shareholder letter.
Full-year profit at the Omaha, Nebraska-based company rose 61 percent. Berkshire has about 80 operating businesses that sell things from car insurance, carpeting and ice cream to industrial components, paint and underwear.
There's a few businesses that have really had a fair amount of bounce, while others show no improvement, Buffett said. It's getting better, but at a very, very slow pace.
He said U.S. President Barack Obama is doing a good job in restoring the country from difficult conditions. I give Obama high marks, he said.
BUFFETT PRAISES GOLDMAN CEO
Berkshire's $26.5 billion takeover last month of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp, the second-largest U.S. railroad, cost Berkshire the last of its triple-A ratings from major credit agencies.
Buffett raised about half of the $15.9 billion of cash used for the takeover, Berkshire's largest, in credit markets.
He said the downgrades had virtually no impact on Berkshire, perhaps costing just a few hundredths of a percentage point in extra yield on its debt.
I think we deserve a quadruple-A rating, he joked. Such a rating does not exist.
Buffett offered praise for Goldman Sachs Group Inc
Goldman still receives much criticism over the extent to which it may have contributed to the recent financial crisis, and the debt crisis now afflicting Greece.
Berkshire acquired the Goldman securities in September 2008 at the height of the financial crisis, and Buffett said he would do it again under the circumstances if he had another chance.
It's a very, very strong, well-run business, he said. On Blankfein, he said, You cannot find a better manager.
Buffett also said there remain three potential candidates to succeed him as chief executive, including one ready to take over immediately if needed.
He praised David Sokol, who chairs Berkshire's MidAmerican Energy unit and whom he installed to slash debt and restore profit at the troubled NetJets plane leasing unit. What Dave has done there is miraculous, Buffett said.
Buffett also praised Ajit Jain, a 25-year Berkshire veteran who runs much of its insurance business and talks with Buffett each day. He called Jain incredibly valuable to Berkshire and said he is responsible for a huge part of its success.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Derek Caney, Robert MacMillan and John Wallace)