Buffett 1994 LectureVW Staff
Warren Buffett’s opening remarks and conversation with students:
Testing. One million, two million, three million… Somebody yelled out from the back, earlier, “I can’t hear you.” I was giving a speech a few weeks ago and the same thing happened. Somebody said, ”I can’ t hear you.” And, then someone in the front stood up and said, ”I can- Let’s change places”
It’s really good to be here today. I have a, lot of great memories of the University. My mother and father met here when my dad was editor of the Daily Nebraskan in 1924. My mother had worked for her father’s tiny paper in West Point. And so, when she came here, she went into the Daily Nebraskan to apply for a job and met my dad there. Within a couple of years, they were married. Then about twenty-five years later or thereabouts, after two years at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, I transferred here and I must say that I thought that my year here was considerably superior to either of the years I’d had at Wharton. I got a lot of education. Ray Dein from here was a terrific accounting professor at that time. We were reminiscing earlier a little bit about Carl Arndt, who taught Economics. Professor Arndt, when he taught Economics, would leave the room during the exam. We thought that was very trusting of him. He explained that, well, he could do that because, although we had the same exam. he had different answers for the odd and even numbered seats.
I would like to talk to the students, primarily, a little bit about your future beta-ruse an experience I had a couple of years ago may tie in with that. Then we’ll get into questions and what’s on your mind. But I did have an experience in 1991 that may have some applicability to you students in the room.
What happened then was that on a Friday, August 14, 1991, I received a phone call at a quarter of seven in the morning. And, it woke me up, I’m sorry to admit. That early-to-bed, early-to-rise stuff is, well, you can forget that. I’m not going to give you any of that. In any event, I got this call and on the other end were some people in a conference room, obviously on a speaker phone. They told me that the top management of Salomon had been told the previous night, by the President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank (and he is the most important man in financial markets in the world; he is not that well known, the Chairman of the Fed would be better known), but the President of the New York Fed, in terms of financial markets is number one, and his name is Jerry Corigan. Mr. Corigan had told the top management of Salomon that they were unacceptable to be running the institution; and he meant, immediately. So they decided the next morning that they were going to leave- They had to leave. And they were calling to say that as of that time there was no one there to run the institution.
That was a rather serious situation because at that time, Salomon owed more money than any other institution in the United States, with the exception of Citicorp, the big bank CiticOrp owed a little over $200 billion. Salomon’ s total liabilities were just under $150 billion. Now, $150 billion was roughly equal to the profits of all of the companies on the New York Stock Exchange in that year. So, it was more money than the Bank of America owed. It was more money than American Express owed. It was more money than Fannie Mae owed. Only Citicorp owed more money. The problem about this$150 billion was that basically, it almost all came due within the next couple of weeks. Unlike Citicorp or the Bank of America or Manny Hanny or the other big banks, people who had lent money to Salomon were not protected by FDIC insurance, so they could not look to the government that way. And, they were also not protected by what’ 5 called the “Too Big To Fail Doctrine”. Basically, people feel, although the Fed has not been terribly specific about it, that any of the really big banks will not be allowed to fail because the Fed is worried about a domino effect. 50, if people were worried about the solvency of Citioorp or Chase or somebody like that, they didn’t really worry about their deposits there because they had both FDIC insurance and they had this ”Too Big To Fail Doctrine”. Salomon had neither. So, we were faced with the fact all over the world, because this money was owed all over the world, that people on that Friday and the following Monday were going to want us to pay back $140 odd billion or something close to it, which is not the easiest thing to do.
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