Since I am still a young buck, I am often surprised to read past works of financial commentators who I respect very much and find that their commentary reflects present trends. I was directed by the excellent Felix Salmon to an article that Michael Lewis wrote in 1992 about Mr. Buffet's rescue of the troubled Salomon Brothers.
His windfall came out of the shareholders' pockets, since his cheap option dilutes the value of the existing shares. Although a few of them sued, the deal never met the popular resistance it deserved, mainly because it involved Buffett. Public feeling was that if it was wrong, Buffett would never have done it; therefore it must have been right.Curious to this observer is the similarity that this pattern of investments has to his more recent investments in Goldman Sachs and GE. In his more recent review of a 960 page biography of Buffett, Lewis happily points out further deviations from the folksy style of investment that Berkshire Hathaway trumpets in its annual newsletters, and notes the similarity of the recent Berkshire investment in Goldman Sachs to Buffett's investment in Salomon.
In effect the moralist had sold his reputation, without pausing to measure the man willing to pay such a price for it. Perhaps heartened by the critical success of the first foray, Buffett quickly made the business of saving CEOs from corporate predators a rule rather than an exception in his portfolio. He cut about $1.2 billion more of similar sweet, off-market deals with the chief executives of U.S. Air, Champion, and Gillette.
He stops short of acknowledging that in another customer of Buffett's positive image rental service has been General Electric - an institution that he mentions only as an entity which used to have a AAA rating that is "in the process of collapsing."
At the conclusion of the interview, he notes that this biography will be valuable to a reader in twenty years because it paints the most renowned investor in history with a human brush. This only leads me to wonder: why must we wait so long to see him thusly?