Warren Buffett´s annual letter to shareholders Saturday was grim all around, but one passage in particular highlighted the depths of denial into which some mortgage lenders had to retreat in order to participate in the housing boom: A miniature version of the housing crisis occurred just a few years before the real one began.
A bubble in manufactured housing grew during the late 1990s and peaked in 1998 before imploding. Mr. Buffett claimed that his manufactured housing company only financed home purchases by people who could afford to make their monthly payments, and consequentially, didn´t suffer the ruin others in the sector experienced.
Then he took a shot at regulators who were propping up less-than-innocent banks with cheap funding. He said Berkshire Hathaway was having trouble competing with banks that could borrow cheaply from the government.
"Government is determining the `haves´ and `have-nots.´ That is why companies are rushing to convert to bank holding companies, not a course feasible for Berkshire... At the moment, it is much better to be a financial cripple with a government guarantee than a Gibraltar without one," he wrote.
Mr. Buffett may never find critical mass for his specific sort of resentment of the bank rescue terms, because there may be too few firms out there on ground as stable as his in the first place. But his complaint makes sense. His company not only does not need a bailout; it dodged two housing crises. Right now, it has little to show for its prudence.