Buffett uncharacteristically silent on Goldman
Warren Buffett has been uncharacteristically silent about Goldman Sachs. The lack of public comment is especially curious given his $5 billion investment in the firm and the possibility a board director leaked news of that deal to an alleged insider trader. Buffett may be wise to keep his counsel; the investment bank isn’t making itself easy to defend.
It was a different story in March. “You cannot find a better manager” than Lloyd Blankfein, the firm’s chief executive, Buffett told CNBC at the time.
That was before Goldman’s publicity problems turned more toxic. The Sage of Omaha, who has become a pretty regular fixture on business television, hasn’t had anything to say since the Securities and Exchange Commission filed its fraud charges against Goldman last week. Nor has he commented about a Wall Street Journal report that Goldman board member Rajat Gupta tipped off an alleged insider trader about the investment Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway made in Goldman back in September 2008. (Gupta hasn’t been charged, and denies any wrongdoing.)
Of course, Buffett may be saving his breath for an imminent public appearance — or for the 30,000-plus Berkshire shareholders set to gather in Omaha, Nebraska, next weekend for the company’s closely watched annual meeting. But if he’s minded still to support Goldman publicly, Buffett may be finding the firm’s own attitude increasing the challenge.
Sure, Goldman has been singled out for criticism that belongs to Wall Street as a whole. And the SEC’s lawsuit, which looks contentious in legal terms, may well have been timed for maximum political impact. But the accusations still paint a picture of client favoritism and self-interested dealing that leaves a bad taste.
Meanwhile, Goldman is raking in profit and setting aside handsome amounts to pay its people. They may be the best in the business, but even so the firm’s apparently unshaken confidence in its own righteousness doesn’t seem the best way to further its famous “long-term greedy” approach. Maybe Goldman could learn something from Buffett. His own famously homespun wisdom can be self-serving — but he gets away with it partly because he also knows when to eat humble pie.