In mid-November, Warren Buffett met with 20 MBA students from eight universities.
On his blog, University of Maryland business school professor David Kass has published notes from that meeting.
One student asked Buffett about his investment in Goldman Sachs that he made during the pit of the financial crisis.
In answering the question, Buffett vividly set the scene of the crisis, describing an economy that was truly teetering on the brink. And in setting that scene Buffett heaped gigantic praise on George W. Bush, which we’ve highlighted in red:
Money market funds held a lot of Lehman paper. It happened overnight, 30+ million Americans who believed money markets were safe, and then Lehman fails. This caused a major money market fund to “break the buck” and lose value. It became a great silent electronic run on money markets. There was $US3 1/2 trillion in money market funds and $US175 billion of funds flowed out in the first three days after Lehman failed. All money market funds held commercial paper. Companies like GE had a lot of commercial paper. After this, American industry literally stopped. George Bush said, “If money doesn’t loosen up, this sucker will go down” — I believe this was the greatest economic statement of all time. This is why he backed up Paulson and Bernanke. Companies were counting on the commercial paper market. In September 2008, we came right to the abyss. If Paulson and Bernanke had not intervened, in two more days it would have been all over. BRK always has $US20 billion or more in cash. It sounds crazy, never need anything like it, but some day in the next 100 years when the world stops again, we will be ready. There will be some incident, it could be tomorrow. At that time, you need cash. Cash at that time is like oxygen.
We can only surmise exactly why Buffett found Bush’s words so powerful, but it’s the combination of understanding that the answer to the crisis was looser money and the understanding of the stakes — that it could have all totally collapsed.
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