This article is GRS staff writer Adam Baker. In addition to his work at Get Rich Slowly, Baker blogs over at Man Vs. Debt, where he maintains a list of every single item his family owns.
It’s no secret that J.D. loves him some Warren Buffett. Honestly, though, who doesn’t? Financial wisdom seems to ooze from his pores. Previously on Get Rich Slowly, J.D. has touched on Buffett’s philosophies, well-known frugality, and charitable efforts.
Buffett was born, raised, and still lives in Omaha, Nebraska. Even as a child, Buffett constantly tinkered with business concepts. He filed his first income tax return at age 13, including a $35 work expense deduction for his bike and watch. These days, at age 79, Buffett is one of America’s most respected business minds and constantly jockeys with Bill Gates and Carlos Slim Helu for the position of richest person in the world.
A couple of weeks ago, CNBC ran a special “One Year Later” interview with Buffett marking the one-year anniversary of the height of the financial crisis. The interview is relatively short (just under twelve minutes), but manages to touch on everything from specific phone conversations to the state of healthcare reform.
Lehman and AIG call on Buffett for help
For me, the most intriguing part of the interview is when Buffett discusses his call from Bob Diamond, the head of Barclays. The venerable investment bank Lehman Brothers was in a desperate state, and Barclays, a British financial services firm, was looking to step in and take over the operation. Because of the size of the deal, though, British authorities were requiring a vote of the shareholders, which would take several days to organize. Knowing Lehman’s time was extremely limited, Barclays wanted Buffett to insure the transaction, effectively providing a short life-line to Lehman Brothers while the Barclays shareholders could be organized for a vote.
Buffett admits that during the initial phone call, he couldn’t understand the details of what would be required in the transaction. He laughs at how he received the first call just before heading into a dinner party on Friday night. Ultimately, Buffett requested additional information, but the inevitable meltdown started only hours later. To this day, Buffett still isn’t completely clear on what they wanted him to do.
This was only one of a couple phone calls Buffett received that weekend last September. Buffett’s recollection of the events couldn’t have been more entertaining if Hollywood had written the script itself. Ultimately, though, none of the transactions that were discussed came to fruition.
When asked directly if he has any regrets about the decisions he made (or rather didn’t make) during that weekend, Buffett responds, “No.” He adds with a chuckle that “it was a movie to see, but not to participate in.”
Buffett’s endorsement of government intervention
Ultimately, though, Buffett praises the government intervention that occurred in the weeks and month after the events. He even used the word “heroes” to describe:
- Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke
- Former Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson
- Current Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner
Buffett says that without their actions, “it would have gone further than anybody would have wanted to see.”
The public has been quick to criticize much of the government response over the last year. The approval ratings of Bernanke, Paulson, and Geithner aren’t exactly at all-time highs, so I find it interesting that Buffett provides such a strong endorsement of the actions of both Presidential administrations.
The state of the recession and the future of the economy
When pegged for his opinion on whether the recession is over, Buffett opines that “it’s sort of plateaued…” and that, barring any single catastrophic event, things should start to improve. “We’re past the critical point,” he finishes.
Strong words of hope from one of America’s most trusted sources of investing wisdom. But, what do you think? Do you see evidence that we’ve “plateaued”? Is the worst behind us? Do you feel the government intervention over the past year has helped the recovery — or delayed it?
For a more complete picture on Buffett’s responses, be sure to watch the full video interview. It’s well worth twelve minutes of your time!