Warren Buffett's 'Buy American' - One Year Later

Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett

One year ago, even though the financial world was "a mess" and would probably get messier, Warren Buffett wrote in the New York Times that he was buying U.S. stocks to lock in a "slice of America's future at a marked-down price."

He cited his "simple" rule: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful."

One year later, the benchmark S&P 500 is 14.9 percent higher than it was the night before Buffett's "Buy American" op-ed (read the complete article) was published on Friday, October 17, 2008.

But that's beside the point.

In his op-ed, Buffett makes clear he wasn't trying to "time" the market. He wrote he didn't have the "faintest idea" whether stocks would be higher or lower one month, or one year later. Both qualify as short-term for Buffett. He was looking five, ten, or twenty years into the future.

And it's a good thing Buffett wasn't trying to pick a short-term bottom, because his timing was awful. The S&P continued to drop that fall and winter, closing at its bear-market low of 676.53 on March 9.

If you had been smart or lucky enough to go all-in on the S&P on that day, you'd be up 60 percent now.

But Buffett's key point is that very few of us are going to be that smart or that lucky. Those waiting for the perfect moment run a big risk of coming in too late, especially if they're looking for hints that things are getting better.

The Oracle of Omaha won't make predictions about specific stock market moves, but he does have one strongly-held prophecy about the future: "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."

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