Last Friday, behind closed doors, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen and Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, gave Congressional leaders the Armageddon scenario for financial markets and the US economy and provided an emergency solution in the form of Government intervention. Because they are not fools, our Government leaders saw the light and in a televised speech they announced that they would set aside politics and join forces to enact legislation to secure the viability of the financial markets. That was last Friday.
This week, given the opportunity to grandstand, those same legislators allowed politics to trump crisis management. Congress spent the last three days wringing its hands over how the Government is providing a $700 billion bailout of rich Wall Street cats. This, while credit markets are frozen, healthy corporations cannot get access to capital without paying exorbitant interest rates, the stock market is floundering and vulture countries with billions of our dollars are grinning, hoping that our ineffectuality will be their gain.
Then quietly the most respected investor in the world, Warren Buffett, turned the tide. By stepping up to the plate and making a $5 billion investment in Goldman Sachs, he engaged the ultimate use of moral suasion and de facto kicked Congress into action. He not only made an extremely savvy investment that stands to serve his shareholders well for a long time, but even more importantly he put the entire burden of the solution right onto the lap of Congress by stating that were he not convinced that Congress would indeed pass the necessary legislation, he would not only not have done the deal with Goldman Sachs, but instead he would have been selling his stock holdings. Nothing like a big fat stick to scare politicians. Thank you, Warren Buffett.
Patricia W. Chadwick is an asset manager and financial consultant with more than 25 years of investment experience. She is founder and president of Ravengate Partners LLC, a consulting firm that provides advice on financial markets and global economics.