It’s possible to invest like the Oracle, but not everyone can get his terms.

From his penchant for cheeseburgers and Cherry Coke to his belief in such iconic American brands such as Benjamin Moore & Co. and General Electric Co. (GE), Warren Buffett is our modern day investing Horatio Alger.

His is the Charles Atlas route to big financial muscles. Just follow Buffett’s tried and true path of value investing, we’re told, and chances are you’ll end up ridiculously rich. Even better: Unlike Warren, you don’t have to drive a Lincoln and live in a modest suburban home in Omaha, Neb.

Buffett contributes to the myth-making. In announcing his blockbuster $26.3 billion deal for Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNI) on Tuesday, he called the costly acquisition an ‘all-in wager on the economic future of the United States. I love these bets,’ he said.

The problem with the image of Buffett as Everyman Investor is that too often the myth doesn’t match reality. Buffett and his investing company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA, BRKB), have had a mixed record on investments in recent years. His empire has been debunked in the last year by government bailouts and extraordinary terms he’s received on investments.

In other words, while there’s still merit in following Buffett’s value investing principles, even better are guaranteed returns that come from negotiating leverage.

First, the good: If you invested alongside St. Warren on Oct. 16, 2008, the day of his New York Times op-ed, ‘Buy American, I Am,’ you would be doing well.

The time was nearly perfect for a long-term bullish call. The financial crisis was in its worst throes and the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program was only 13 days old. Most of the bailout money had not reached the banks. Chrysler and General Motors were lurching toward bankruptcy.

Buffett cheered the markets. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed a few points higher that day at 946.43.

We all know what followed. The index tumbled during the next five months, hitting a low of 676.53 on March 9, but it has edged back. The S&P 500 has spent most of the last three months above 1,000. As of this Monday, an investor taking Buffett’s advice on the day of his infamous article would have a 10% return not including dividends–enough to buy a Cherry Coke and cheeseburger lunch.

Likewise, if you followed Buffett into one of his biggest investments of 2008, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), you may be ready to upgrade to another of the Oracle’s weaknesses, Omaha steaks. Since Buffett announced his Goldman investment on Sept. 24 of last year, the stock is up more than 25%.

But like the morning after a junk-food meal, there is a price for indulging. Berkshire stock has yet to shake a year-long slump. After closing at $113,150 on Oct. 16, 2008, the day Buffett’s article appeared, the conglomerate has sputtered, going as low as $72,400 and then recovering to $101,530 as of Wednesday’s close, a loss of 10.2%. It’s also down 28% from its peak at near the end of 2007.

Meanwhile, shares of General Electric, which Buffett invested in on Oct. 1, 2008, are down 39%.

To his credit, Buffett has admitted his mistakes. In his famous annual letter to shareholders, issued in March, he wrote that ‘during 2008, I did some dumb things in investments.’

It’s a humble assessment, but there’s more to it than just some misplaced bets. He had the advantage that cash-rich investors do. Given desperate targets, he was able to win terms we, as average folks, couldn’t.

Simply put, Buffett didn’t play on the same investing field as you or I last year. He was almost guaranteed profits. He paid $5 billion for ‘perpetual’ preferred securities that pay him 10%, or $500 million, annually. He also received warrants to buy close to a 10% stake in Goldman at a discounted price.

The GE deal was almost as good. Buffett bought similar perpetual preferreds that pay 10%, or $300 million. His GE warrants, priced at $22.25, are under water, with the stock at $14.19 as of Wednesday’s close, but Berkshire doesn’t have to exercise the option.

Buffett also suffers from what I like to call Jamie Dimon disease, a malady I’ve assigned to the JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) chief executive. Dimon argued that his bank didn’t deserve to be under the same scrutiny as other bailed-out banks in part because JPMorgan repaid its bailout funds and didn’t need them in the first place.

Like Dimon, Buffett likes everyone to believe the massive government intervention into the financial markets didn’t benefit his company directly. But Berkshire Hathaway is a major insurance company that owns such well known financial subsidiaries as Geico, General Re and a homebuilder, Clayton Homes, that have received indirect benefit from government programs.

I bring this up because Buffett was named to President Obama’s economic team in July 2008, a job that even in the midst of a campaign gave him not only access to economic policy but the power to shape it. As he made his investments during roughly the last year, he wasn’t just close to powerful people in Washington, he was one.

How many of us had that advantage?

None of his less-than-legendary moves is likely to sully the mythical Warren. One business publication calls him ‘America’s billionaire next door.’ That’s true. The help has always lived close to masters such as Buffett.

为何并非人人都能成为巴菲特?

像“奥马哈先知”巴菲特(Warren Buffett)一样投资是有可能的,不过并非人人都能像他一样拿到那么好的条款。

从对芝士汉堡和樱桃可乐的情有独锺到对Benjamin Moore & Co.和通用电气(General Electric Co.)等美国标志性品牌的深信不疑,巴菲特称得上是现代社会投资界的奥尔杰(Horatio Alger)(译者注:19世纪美国多产作家)。

他的投资法可以像阿特拉斯(Charles Atlas)健身法一样让你腰包鼓起来。我们听到的忠告是,只要跟随巴菲特经过实践检验的价值投资法,就有可能变得无比富有。更棒的是,你还不必像巴菲特一样开林肯(Lincoln)车,住在内布拉斯加州奥马哈郊区一座不起眼的房子里。

巴菲特创造了神话。他周二宣布斥资263亿美元收购Burlington Northern Santa Fe时,把这桩价格不菲的交易称为“在美国经济未来上的孤注一掷。我喜欢这样的豪赌。”

把巴菲特当作普通投资者有个问题,那就是神话常常与现实不符。巴菲特和他的投资公司伯克希尔哈撒韦公司(Berkshire Hathaway)近年来的投资纪录好坏参半。过去一年中,他帝国的真相因政府救助和他获得的非同寻常的投资条款而暴露无遗。

也就是说,虽然追随巴菲特的价值投资原则仍有价值,但更好的是谈判优势能带来确定无疑的回报。

首先,好的是,如果在2008年10月16日,也就是巴菲特为《纽约时报》撰文《我买美股》(Buy American, I Am)的当天,你跟着圣人巴菲特投资了,你现在会有不错的回报。

当时几乎是宣布长期看涨的一个完美时间。金融危机在最深重的时候,联邦问题资产救助计划(TARP)刚推出了13天。大部分救助资金尚未到达银行。克莱斯勒(Chrysler)和通用汽车(General Motors)正在逐步走向破产。

巴菲特的文章提振了股市。标准普尔500指数当天涨了几点,收于946.43点。

我们都知道随后发生了什么。标准普尔500指数在接下来的5个月中持续暴跌,3月9日触及676.53点的低点,不过现在已经逐步回升。过去3个月来该指数基本位于1,000点上方。截至周一,如果一名投资者在巴菲特发表文章的当天听了他的建议,那么他现在会获得10%的回报,这还不包括派息──足够买一顿樱桃可乐加芝士汉堡的午餐。

同样,如果你跟着巴菲特投资了高盛集团(Goldman Sachs Group Inc.)──这是他2008年最大的投资之一,你则有望升级到这位先知难以抗拒的另外一种美食──奥马哈牛排。自去年9月24日巴菲特宣布投资高盛以来,该股已经涨了25%以上。

不过和早餐吃了垃圾食品的上午一样,放纵自己是要付出代价的。伯克希尔哈撒韦的股票尚未从一年前的低迷中走出来。2008年10月16日巴菲特撰文的当天,该股收于113,150美元。随后这家企业集团遭受了重创,曾跌至72,400美元,之后回升,周三收于101,530美元,较2008年10月16日跌了10.2%,较2007年底的高点跌了28%。

与此同时,2008年10月1日巴菲特投资的通用电气股票跌了39%。

值得表扬的是,巴菲特承认了自己的错误。他3月份在有名的年度致股东信中说,2008年期间,我在投资上做了一些蠢事。

这个自我评估是谦逊的,不过问题可不只是投资失误而已。他有着那些资金雄厚的投资者所拥有的优势。在投资对象陷入绝望境地的情况下,他可以赢得我们这样的普通人所无法得到的条款。

简而言之,去年巴菲特和你我的投资平台是不同的。他几乎可以保证能获利。巴菲特斥资50亿美元买进永久性优先股,股息10%,也就是每年5亿美元股息。他还获得了认股权证,能以折扣价买进高盛近10%的股权。

通用电气的交易几乎也是一样好。巴菲特也买进了永久性优先股,股息10%,也就是每年3亿美元股息。他的通用电气认股权证价格是22.25美元,由于周三通用电气股票收盘价为14.19美元,他的认股权证像是赔钱了,不过伯克希尔哈撒韦不必行使这些认股权证。

巴菲特还患上了我所说的“杰米•戴蒙”病,这是我给摩根大通(JPMorgan Chase & Co.)首席执行长戴蒙(Jamie Dimon)患的一种病起的名。戴蒙说,摩根大通不应该和其他接受了救助的银行一样受到严格的审查,原因之一是摩根大通偿还了救助资金,而且一开始就不需要这笔钱。

和戴蒙一样,巴菲特希望人人都会相信,政府对金融市场的大规模干预没有直接让他的公司得益。不过伯克希尔哈撒韦是一家大型保险公司,拥有知名的Geico、General Re和房屋建造商Clayton Homes等子公司,而这些公司从政府计划中获得了间接的好处。

我说起这个,是因为2008年7月巴菲特被任命为奥巴马总统经济小组的成员,这个职位即使是在竞选期间也使他不但可以了解经济政策,而且还有制定经济政策的权力。他去年投资的时候,不仅是和华盛顿的权力人士关系密切,他就是其中的一员。

我们有多少人有这样的优势?

他的那些较普通的投资之举不可能让先知巴菲特失去光芒。一个商业刊物称他是“美国的邻家亿万富翁”。说得不错。帮助之手总是住在巴菲特这样的大师附近。

David Weidner

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