Thanks, Mr. Buffett!February 12, 2008: 10:15 AM ET
On Tuesday, Warren Buffett declared that he has offered to assume liability for insurance on the municipal bonds that three major bond insurers now cover, to the tune of $800 billion.
The good news is that one firm has already rejected the offer, Buffett says. So it must feel it's okay without the help of Berkshire Hathaway. I guess that's not altogether a bad thing, huh? I mean, I'm not totally sure that I'll be all right without the help of Berkshire Hathaway.
I own some bonds. Until recently, I thought they were completely safe. The idea that the insurance companies that cover them could fail never occurred to me. When everybody started talking about that possibility, I don't mind telling you I felt a certain amount of unease. The phrase "wake up screaming" comes to mind.
Now here comes Warren Buffett to save the day, offering to prop up the situation not just with financial power, but with the one thing that we all need right now: confidence that there's somebody running the store who just might know what's going on and is prepared to put his money where his mouth is.
I get a kick out of Bono jumping in to ameliorate third world debt. I get goose pimply when I hear all the philanthropic stuff coming out of Davos. But this kind of thing really floats my debentures.
You have to look more than a hundred years back to find an act of comparable magnitude, I think. It was 1895. There was a panic in the markets. The U.S. Treasury was out of gold to back our currency. And J.P. Morgan stepped in to prop up the entire monetary system of the United States with his own capital and a bunch of money from abroad.
Every now and then we get to a place where certain individuals are doing better than the nation-states they live in. It's rare when one of them offers to fulfill a quasi-governmental role to re-establish confidence in the system that produced all that value for them.
So thanks, Mr. Buffett. Not just for the willingness to secure $800,000,000,000 in liability. There is that, of course. But also for giving us the feeling that there is a man behind the curtain, and that someday, some way, he's going to make sure everything's gonna be all right.