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The Washington Independent

Buffett: Derivatives Still a Ticking Time Bomb

I’ll have a story up soon on today’s testimony from Warren Buffett, the head of investment giant Berkshire Hathaway, to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission

Adan Duran
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Jun 02, 2010

I’ll have a story up soon on today’s testimony from Warren Buffett, the head of investment giant Berkshire Hathaway, to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission on the role of credit rating agencies in the financial crisis and recession.

But here’s one nugget. Brooksley Born, the former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates certain kinds of derivatives, used her time to ask Buffett multiple questions about the financial instruments, contracts derived from the price of another asset that will come under new regulation once the financial regulatory reform bill passes. Derivatives trading accounts for up to 40 percent of revenue at some Wall Street banks, and their regulation is the subject of intense lobbying by financial firms that do not want to have to exchange-trade derivatives or put trades through clearinghouses.

Born quoted Buffett’s shareholder letters declaring derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that while now latent are potentially lethal” and “time bombs both for the parties that deal in them and the economic system.”

In response to questions about the instruments, Buffett said that derivatives “accentuated enormously the leverage in the system” and contributed to the financial collapse. He described his acquisition of reinsurance company GenRe, which came with 23,000 derivatives contracts, and how he sold off all of them for $400 million at a loss because he felt he could not understand them. “It was impossible,” he said, noting he had never heard of most of the counterparties and “couldn’t pronounce their names.”

“The only answer was to get out of the business,” he said.

Born asked whether major investment banks, such as J.P. Morgan Chase, have the capacity to understand their derivatives contracts and their risks. Buffet replied, “I think they’re dangerous. I’ll say this: I don’t think I could manage them. … It’s hard for me to imagine a regulatory system that could supervise something like that.”

Finally, Born asked him, “In your view, is the derivatives market still a time bomb ticking away?”

Buffett responded, “I would say so.”

Adan Duran | Adan is a high-energy keynote speaker who encourages audiences to use their focus to pay attention to what matters most at work and in life. His audience members adore his realistic techniques that they can use in their personal and professional lives. As a professional speaker, he has won several awards. His extensive experience in learning, growth, and leading large corporate teams makes his an ideal candidate. Employers recruit Adan because of his actionable techniques for avoiding disruptions, stopping interruptions, prioritizing everyday objectives, and saying no to demands that divert resources away from actual goals and priorities.


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