• U.S.

Another Bad-News Bear?

2 minute read
Daniel Kadlec

Warren Buffett may be the greatest investor ever. But his long-term philosophy, which was ridiculed as he avoided the dotcom boom–and vindicated as he avoided the bust–is being scrutinized once more. The buy-and-hold billionaire is up to his ears in exotic investments known as derivatives, which are used to bet on things like the weather and the direction of interest rates. Derivatives were at the core of the 1994 bankruptcy of California’s Orange County and the 1998 demise of hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. Buffett once called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction,” so you’d think he would steer clear. But his company, Berkshire Hathaway, has acknowledged a $307 million pretax loss in the first three months of this year that’s due to a $21.4 billion position in “currency contracts,” which are derivatives that hit pay dirt when the dollar falls. Problem is, the dollar is rallying. The greenback–up 4% against the euro in the first quarter and an additional 8% since then–shows no signs of stalling, and Jim Bianco of Bianco Research estimates that Buffett’s losses this year have surpassed $1 billion.

Sweden surprised the world last week by cutting interest rates, which could trigger rate cuts throughout Europe and a falling euro. Yet Buffett has indicated that he’s sticking with his bet. “There’s no change in the underlying factors affecting currencies,” he said, adding that in the long run, the U.S. trade deficit must weaken the buck. It’s not all bad news for Buffett fans. He first bet against the dollar as it was falling in 2002 and remains in the money overall. But with his gains eroding, dreaded derivatives may claim the biggest victim yet.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com