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Negative Reviews for Warren Buffett's Defense of Moody's to Crisis Commission

Warren Buffett is sworn in before testifying to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in New York on June 2, 2010.
CNBC TV
Warren Buffett is sworn in before testifying to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in New York on June 2, 2010.

Warren Buffett is getting a lot of negative reviews for his appearance under subpoena yesterday (Wednesday) before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

In response to respectful, but pointed, questioning, Buffett argued that Moody's shouldn't bear all the blamefor giving favorable ratings to subprime mortgage loans that later went horribly bad, sparking the financial crisis we've all been living through these past few years.

Almost everyone, he said, believed at the time that housing prices couldn't crash. "Look at me. I was wrong on it too."

Buffett was there because his Berkshire Hathaway holding company is Moody's largest shareholder with a stake now, after months of selling, of about 13 percent, down from almost 20 percent a year ago.

After the hearing, panel Chairman Phil Angelides told Reuters, "I'm not sure he fully comprehends the range of questions raised about Moody's business practices and culture."

Reuter's Felix Salmon writes that it was "arguably the single worst day of Buffett's life" from a PR standpoint.

Among other pans, Salmon cites Pragmatic Capitalism's criticism of Buffett's Moody's defense: "Angelides (and just about every other rational American) thinks the ratings agencies played a central role in misleading investors. The fact is plain as day to anyone who doesn't own millions of dollars worth of their stock."

Warren Buffett testifying before the FCIC
AP
Warren Buffett testifying before the FCIC

Bond Girl writes on Self-Evident that "Buffett has gone from being the authority on value to defending some of the most dysfunctional and socially worthless elements of the global financial system. It’s funny how heroes end up cutting themselves down to size even when no one else can."

On Capital Gains and Games, Edmund Andrews calls Buffett's performance "shameful," adding that "I never thought I would ever say this, but Warren Buffett has turned into an evasive, disingenuous, bumbling buffoon."

Money Watch's John Keefe writes his criticism under the headline, "Warren Buffett Shows His True Colors: Green, and Uncooperative."

Kevin Hall of McClatchy Newspapers focused on one aspect of Buffett's testimony, reporting his assertion that he wasn't tipped off to problems with bonds highly rated by Moody's is a "direct contradiction" of email evidence "presented privately to the panel."

On Fox Business, Charlie Gasparino accuses Buffett of "defending the most corrupt business model in corporate America" (the people issuing the debt pay for that debt to be rated, creating a conflict of interest) just because Moody's was a good investment.

CNBC.com Senior Editor John Carney wrote on this site that "it would be unfair to Buffett to wonder if he is just talking his book here." But he rejects Buffett's view that increased competition among credit rating agencies (by loosening government regulations that support a "duopoly" in the business) could result in more laxity in the ratings.

Carney also highlights Buffett's statement to the Commission that he looks for misrated securities because "that will give us a chance to turn a profit if we disagree."

Carney's conclusion: "The same Buffett who profits from the duopoly status of the top ratings agencies also profits from the mistakes allowed to fester under our anti-competitive system. Perhaps we should think twice before anointing him our oracle when it comes to ratings agency reform."

Current stock prices:

Berkshire Class B:

Berkshire Class A:

Moody's:

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Email comments to buffettwatch@cnbc.com

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