I suggested last month that Warren Buffett is past his prime, and we should make him a godlike financial spokesperson on everything he says, down to swaying portfolios, if not markets, in response to his words. In doing so, I took a lashing from some.
Comments flooded in, and most of them were negative. Quite.
Fine with me, as my job is only to stoke the possibility with dialogue. Reader input matters -- more than mine, in fact. But in regard to Warren Buffett being past his prime -- or rather, being past the point that we should rise and fall and react so carefully to everything he says -- I'm not so sure the many angry dissenters who said things like I will feel like an idiot for writing that someday are wrong.
Consider events of this week as one example. During an interview Thursday on CNBC, Buffett said he has a bet wtih Peter Orszag, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget for the White House, that America's unemployment will fall from its current rate of 9.1 percent to below 8 percent before the presidential election in late 2012.
What's more, Buffett said the reason he thinks unemployment will improve quicker than many economists predict is because the ailing U.S. housing market will come back quicker than many economists predict, jump-starting jobs.
I think the number that went around yesterday was that you would need 217,000 jobs created every month between now and the election in order to get that number below (an) eight-and-a-half or eight percent unemployment rate. How likely do you think it is when we get to the election next year that we'll be looking at unemployment below eight percent? asked CNBC Squawk Box host Becky Quick in her interview with Buffett.
I've got a bet with a fellow, Buffett said, that it will be -- and he's a very smart fellow -- if you asked any economist who you should bet on, they would bet on the other fellow, Buffett said, in reference to Orszag, who stepped down from President Barack Obama's administration last summer to become the vice chairman of global banking at Citigroup.
But I've got, said Buffett, a bet with a fellow that -- it's only $1 -- I've got a bet with him that (the unemployment rate) will be below that figure (of eight percent). But ... that's because I think housing will come back before that, Buffett said. If I'm wrong about housing, I lose the bet.
Warren Buffett is Legendary, But It's a New Century
First, that was quite a ramble by someone still on their game. But let me say that I respect what Buffett has done in the past and I think he deserves to go down, as he will, as one of the 20th century's legendary and most impacting investors and philanthropists. He's Warren Buffett, after all, and I don't want to diminish his contributions whatsoever.
It's just that I think the time has come and gone for his words to move markets and be held in esteem like they are spoken from a godlike financial guru of the 21st century. His best day was in the last century.
What Buffett said on CNBC only reinforces what I had written weeks before, sending so many to Buffett's angry defense.
Time will tell who is wrong and who is right, but it's unfathomable that Buffett thinks the housing sector will correct so fast, just as it's unfathomable that he thinks unemployment will dip below eight percent by November 2012. It's his opinion, and he made that clear, so be it. And this is mine: He's a Wall Street and political bull spreading positive gospel, in part because upbeat talk gets consumers going and thus the economy, and this his Berkshire Hathaway businesses.
Buffett has also been a famous endorser of President Barack Obama, and everybody knows the unemployment issue will be among the biggest Obama faces in his re-election bid. So I've got a hard time trusting if what Buffett says is his honest, heartfelt opinion or merely political sway -- he knows, after all, that many hang on his most every word.
Buffett Thinks Housing On Road to Recovery
On the jobs issue, I put more trust in a McKinsey report issued in June that suggests America's jobs recovery will take a long time, listing some very credible reasons why, most notably a disconnect between what companies need today and workers are trained for.
Buffett's view on the housing sector recovery is even more difficult to grasp. The economy is slowing and companies are not hiring, meaning potential home buyers will remain in a weakened status for the foreseeable future. The June jobs report was dismal, far worse than most economists predicted. Interest rates will begin creeping up. Most low-hanging fruit in the housing sector was picked with interest rates at a bottom by those Americans still gainfully employed and with cash still heavily deployed in the rising stock market.
If anything, logic says the housing market will slow in the near-term. That ride has come to an end, and it seems almost impossible for America's housing market to stage some type of sudden recovery by November 2012.
I'm hopeful Warren Buffett is right, that unemployment and housing will correct in America by the presidential election. We'll all be better off. But I'm afraid the reality is that we'd all be better off to stop putting so much weight into everything he says. He's had his day, and it was a good one. But now, we need to find another financial god to bow before every time he speaks.