NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Warren Buffett has risen to fame for his ability to pick out undervalued companies with promising upside and bank on their success. Another big part of his appeal is his down-home, common-man image, but that image was tarnished this week when Buffett testified in Congress.
Rather than living a lavish life of excess, the octogenarian is famous for enjoying the simple things: Cherry Coke, his ukulele, a conservative home in Nebraska, and the game of bridge. Buffett has been seen as a proponent of America, investing in all-American companies like
Johnson & Johnson
. At the end of 2009, the investor even bought up Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, saying that he saw it as an all in bet on the future strength of the U.S. economy.
With all of his attractive qualities, it is easy to overlook some of his business decisions which are not as well received by the public. In recent months a number of these moves have placed him on the front pages of many top newspapers as well as in front of Washington officials.
This week, after being served with a subpoena, Warren Buffett appeared in front of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) as a witness to testify about the rating agency industry's role leading up to the financial crisis.
Many have pointed to the actions taken by
, Fitch Ratings, and Standard and Poor's (owned by
) as major factors contributing to the housing market's meltdown.
Although the position has been trimmed considerably on numerous occasions over the past year, Berkshire Hathaway has been a major MCO shareholder since 2000, at one time owning as much as 20% of the firm.
At the hearing, Buffett was critical of Moody's, explaining that, in hindsight, the firm should have recognized the events leading up to the crisis. However, he also appeared supportive of the firm, saying no one that he knew of had been able to see it coming, either. Buffett also stood up for the firm's CEO, saying that he should not be singled out for blame.
This is not the first time that Buffett has expressed his support for the troubled ratings agency. Previously, at the annual
shareholders meeting in Nebraska, the oracle of Omaha had sung the firm's praises.
In recent weeks Buffett has also offered his support for
. Like Moody's, Goldman has been the recipient of plenty of criticism stemming from its actions leading up to and in response to the global economic meltdown. The reigning king of Wall Street was even slapped with fraud charges courtesy of the Securities Exchange Commission for its involvement in the subprime mortgage crisis.
Buffett has also drawn scrutiny recently for his hypocritical stance on derivatives. Although he has been quoted as saying that these instruments were financial weapons of mass destruction, he is also known to manage a multi-billion dollar derivative portfolio.
Buffett is no saint. As highlighted in a
interview after his appearance in front of the FCIC, sometimes he is forced to make unpopular decisions in his quest to turn a profit. For instance, the investor explained that, although he knows that smoking can kill you, it has not stopped him from owning cigarette bonds.
Over the years, countless Buffett watchers have been drawn to this financier not only for his investing prowess but also his warm, grandfatherly image and down-home humor. It is important, however, not to be disillusioned by this façade. Ultimately, Buffett is a businessman looking to make money.
In recent weeks, Buffett's less popular business decisions have been highlighted. Has your view of the investor been altered as a result? Feel free to leave a comment below.
-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.
At the time of publication, Dion Money Management was not long in any of the equities mentioned.
Don Dion is president and founder of
, a fee-based investment advisory firm to affluent individuals, families and nonprofit organizations, where he is responsible for setting investment policy, creating custom portfolios and overseeing the performance of client accounts. Founded in 1996 and based in Williamstown, Mass., Dion Money Management manages assets for clients in 49 states and 11 countries. Dion is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts and Maine and has more than 25 years' experience working in the financial markets, having founded and run two publicly traded companies before establishing Dion Money Management.
Dion also is publisher of the Fidelity Independent Adviser family of newsletters, which provides to a broad range of investors his commentary on the financial markets, with a specific emphasis on mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. With more than 100,000 subscribers in the U.S. and 29 other countries, Fidelity Independent Adviser publishes six monthly newsletters and three weekly newsletters. Its flagship publication, Fidelity Independent Adviser, has been published monthly for 11 years and reaches 40,000 subscribers.