Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Billionaire Who Didn't Panic

At 79, Mr. Buffett is coming off the worst year of his long, storied career. On paper, he personally lost an estimated $25 billion in the financial panic of 2008, enough to cost him his title as the world’s richest man. (His friend and sometime bridge partner, Bill Gates, now holds that honor, according to Forbes.)

 

And yet few people on or off Wall Street have capitalized on this crisis as deftly as Mr. Buffett. After counseling Washington to rescue the nation’s financial industry and publicly urging Americans to buy stocks as the markets reeled, in he swooped. Mr. Buffett positioned himself to profit from the market mayhem — as well as all those taxpayer-financed bailouts — and thus secure his legacy as one of the greatest investors of all time.

 

When so many others were running scared last autumn, Mr. Buffett invested billions in Goldman Sachs — and got a far better deal than Washington. He then staked billions more on General Electric. While taxpayers never bailed out Mr. Buffett, they did bail out some of his stock picks. Goldman, American Express, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp — all of them got public bailouts that ultimately benefited private shareholders like Mr. Buffett.

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