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Thursday, 2 October 2008

Buffett says economy needs immediate help

By Josh Funk, AP Business Writer
Buffett says financial crisis is an 'economic Pearl Harbor' that needs immediate counterattack

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said the nation has been hit with an "economic Pearl Harbor," and the government must respond quickly.

Buffett talked about the nation's ongoing financial woes in an appearance on the "The Charlie Rose Show" that aired Wednesday night on PBS stations.

"This really is an economic Pearl Harbor," Buffett said. "That sounds melodramatic, but I've never used that phrase before. And this really is one."

Buffett's spokeswoman did not immediately respond to messages left Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

Buffett said the nation's economic problems are already starting to be felt by furniture and jewelry stores such as the ones owned by Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

The billionaire predicts that the rest of the "Main Street" economy will start to have problems if the government's financial bailout plan doesn't pass Congress soon.

"In my adult lifetime, I don't think I've ever seen people as fearful economically as they are now," the 78-year-old Buffett said.

The fear in the marketplace has allowed Buffett to make several sizable investments over the past month in proven companies that needed cash quickly. And Berkshire, which had $31.2 billion cash on hand at the end of June, was ready to invest because, Buffett says, he always tries to be greedy when others are fearful.

Berkshire, based in Omaha, Neb., announced Wednesday afternoon it would buy $3 billion of preferred shares of General Electric Co., which carry a 10 percent dividend. The terms are similar to those Buffett struck with Goldman Sachs last week when Berkshire invested $5 billion in preferred Goldman Sachs shares with a 10 percent dividend.

Berkshire also has the option to buy $3 billion worth of GE common shares for $22.25 each and an additional $5 billion in Goldman Sachs common stock for $115 per share at any time over five years.

Buffett said he was approached about the GE investment Wednesday morning by someone at Goldman. And Buffett quickly decided to invest in GE because he's familiar with the company and confident in its long-term prospects.

"It was an attractive investment," Buffett said.

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