The Bottom Line / The rich goof too
1. Warren Buffett: Legendary investor Warren Buffett lost nearly $1 billion betting against the dollar in 2005. Buffett expected the dollar to weaken due to the huge deficit in the U.S. balance of payments, but the chair of the federal reserve thought it was time to cool off the economy, and raised interest rates eight straight times - and investors flocked to the dollar.
But Buffett isn't giving up. He says he's just a little ahead of the market, and the dollar will drop, just as it says in economic theory.
This is not Buffett's first mistake. He started betting against the dollar in 2002, and who knows how many billions he lost in the last few years. And all this is to remind us that there is no one in the world - no one - who knows which way currencies will go. Entire doctoral theses have been written over this inability. There are many variables, tastes change, policies reverse - and it is impossible to predict when one currency or another will strengthen. The change can only be explained after it happens.
Therefore, run away from anyone recommending an investment based on prophesies of where the dollar, euro or yen is going. Maybe Buffett can afford to lose a billion a year. We cannot afford to lose the little savings we've managed to gather.
2. Charles Bronfman: We have a legend that the rich know what to invest in, that they have the Midas touch. But this week, Charles Bronfman told Haaretz that "our investment in Koor was a mistake".
Bronfman, with the Kolber family, bought Koor in the 1990s. He said they paid too much. Jonathan Kolber, who became chair at the time, wanted a revolution. He wanted to invest in technology, so he liquidated traditional investments. But in 2000, the technology bubble collapsed, and the concern's value deteriorated - until a year ago, when it took a turn for the better. But Bronfman and Kolber still have a loss on paper for their investment.
Ted Arison also paid a high price for Bank Hapoalim in 1997, at 126 percent of equity. Until two years, his heirs were still in the red on his investment. And Bank Leumi was also bought for a high price. And it is not clear if the insurance companies that bought provident and mutual funds from the banks will profit on the deals. In other words, don't sell yourselves short. Don't copy. Don't say: they know. Because they make mistakes too.
3. Lev Leviev: On Monday, the contract was signed to construct Israel's first private prison. Lev Leviev's Africa Israel, the Minrav engineering firm, and U.S. company Emerald Correctional Management will build the prison. They will complete construction of the NIS 250 million facility in late 2008. The medium-security correctional facility will be located near Be'er Sheva.
As soon as the deal was reported, kind souls and social welfare organizations charged the mean state was continuing its privatization rampage, shirking its responsibility, and even letting tycoons make a profit - may the all-merciful protect us.
The welfare devotees all suddenly forgot about the serious, humiliating conditions in which prisoners are housed. They forgot the trampling of human rights, the terrible overcrowding, the prisoners' sleeping on bare concrete because there are no beds, the stench because there are no toilets in cells, and the buildings, which have yet to be renovated since Turkish rule.
The contract winners will have to meet strict state supervision and inspection. Prisoner conditions will be improved beyond recognition. The tender set the size of cells, sleeping conditions, food and professional training. But the welfare sorts don't care about any of that. Just don't let it be "private."