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Buffett Watch: Buy American? I'm Damned!

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This blog post originally appeared on RealMoney Silver on March 9 at 8:01 a.m. EDT.

Today's column parodies Warren Buffett's Oct. 16, 2008, New York Times op-ed, " Buy American. I Am."

The portions in italics are meant to represent what Mr. Buffett's updated thoughts might be if the editorial were rewritten today, four and a half months after its original publication:

The New York Times
Op-Ed Contributor

"Buy American. I Am."

"At Some Point, Investors Should Buy American. I Already Did, but I Got in Way Too Early"

Published: October 16, 2008

Published: March 9, 2009
Palm Beach

The financial world is a mess, both in the United States and abroad. Its problems, moreover, have been leaking into the general economy, and the leaks are now turning into a gusher. In the near term, unemployment will rise, business activity will falter and headlines will continue to be scary.

I grossly underestimated the scope of the world's economic problems in October. I suppose when ignorance is combined with leverage, I, in particular, should have better anticipated the consequences we now see today. No longer have the leaks turned into a gusher; they have become more like a hurricane or a tornado in proportion. The accumulated loss of business and consumer confidence coupled with an acceleration in the declines in stock prices have translated into a classical negative feedback loop, which has worsened the fundamental backdrop well beyond what I and most others had expected. Indeed, I expressed a more cautious view in my letter to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A - Get Report) investors last Saturday.

So ... I've been buying American stocks. This is my personal account I'm talking about, in which I previously owned nothing but United States government bonds. (This description leaves aside my Berkshire Hathaway holdings, which are all committed to philanthropy.) If prices keep looking attractive, my non-Berkshire net worth will soon be 100% in United States equities.

While I expanded my personal holdings of U.S. stocks during the fall and increased Berkshire Hathaway's exposure to equities since October 2008, over the short and maybe even intermediate term, I was clearly premature in going all-in. In retrospect, back in October I bought too many expensive suits that, at the time, looked cheap to me. I failed to recognize the scope of the world's economic weakness and the depth of the problems in our financial system.

Why? A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation's many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records five, 10 and 20 years from now.
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