On Oct 16, 2008, value investor and Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times called “Buy American. I Am.”
This Op-Ed appeared in print on Oct 17, at the height of the financial crisis when stocks had plunged and were swinging wildly day to day.
In fact, on the day he wrote the Op-Ed, on Oct 16, the S&P 500 swung 4% from the low to the high in just that single day. It opened at 909, fell to 865, surged to 947 before closing at 946. The Dow had a similar volatile day, opening at 8577, trading as high as 9013 before closing at 8979. That’s a swing of 5%.
But amidst all the noise and the scary volatility, Mr. Buffett was urging calm.
“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.
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 percent in United States equities.
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 5, 10 and 20 years from now.
Let me be clear on one point: I can’t predict the short-term movements of the stock market. I haven’t the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month – or a year – from now. What is likely, however, is that the market will move higher, perhaps substantially so, well before either sentiment or the economy turns up. So if you wait for the robins, spring will be over.”
Mr. Buffett was a little early with his buying. We now know the stock markets actually hit bottom around March 9, 2009.
However, from the market close on the date his Op-Ed appeared in print, Oct 17, 2008, to the close yesterday, Feb 12, 2013, if you had followed Mr. Buffett’s advice and bought the S&P 500 and the Dow, you would be up 61.6% in the S&P and 58.4% in the Dow.
Did you listen to Warren Buffett’s advice and buy stocks during the dark times of 2008 and 2009?
If not, what did the Great Recession teach you about your own risk tolerance?