Warren Buffett on SWFs, Going Long Brazilian Real

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 3/01/2008 03:56:00 PM
Just out is Berkshire Hathaway's 2007 letter to shareholders, and it once again contains many nuggets from the mind of the world's most renowned investor, the Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett. First, he takes those protectionists to task who bash sovereign wealth funds (SWFs):
There’s been much talk recently of sovereign wealth funds and how they are buying large pieces of American businesses. This is our doing, not some nefarious plot by foreign governments. Our trade equation guarantees massive foreign investment in the U.S. When we force-feed $2 billion daily to the rest of the world, they must invest in something here. Why should we complain when they choose stocks over bonds?

Our country’s weakening currency is not the fault of OPEC, China, etc. Other developed countries rely on imported oil and compete against Chinese imports just as we do. In developing a sensible trade policy, the U.S. should not single out countries to punish or industries to protect.

Nor should we take actions likely to evoke retaliatory behavior that will reduce America’s exports, true trade that benefits both our country and the rest of the world. Our legislators should recognize, however, that the current imbalances are unsustainable and should therefore adopt policies that will materially reduce them sooner rather than later. Otherwise our $2 billion daily of force-fed dollars to the rest of the world may produce global indigestion of an unpleasant sort.
Given my discomfort over SWF-bashing, that's food for thought. More interesting yet, however, is the currency investment strategy Buffett has taken against the worthless dollar. He says that he's taken out substantial holdings of Brazilean real [!] My, how the mighty America has fallen:
At Berkshire we held only one direct currency position during 2007. That was in – hold your breath – the Brazilian real. Not long ago, swapping dollars for reals would have been unthinkable. After all, during the past century five versions of Brazilian currency have, in effect, turned into confetti. As has been true in many countries whose currencies have periodically withered and died, wealthy Brazilians sometimes stashed large sums in the U.S. to preserve their wealth.

But any Brazilian who followed this apparently prudent course would have lost half his net worth over the past five years. Here’s the year-by-year record (indexed) of the real versus the dollar from the end of 2002 to yearend 2007: 100; 122; 133; 152; 166; 199. Every year the real went up and the dollar fell. Moreover, during much of this period the Brazilian government was actually holding down the value of the real and supporting our currency by buying dollars in the market.