Just in case you'd forgotten, money can't buy everything. Not love, not happiness and, all too often, not common sense about where, when and how to invest large amounts of money. Here are just a few examples of questionable investment decisions made by the wealthy during the recession. (For a related article, check out Even Millionaires Go Bankrupt.)
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Buying a Failing Bank
Take Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who decided in 2008 to increase his investment in Citigroup (NYSE:C), Inc. to 5% in hopes that it would be enough to save a failing bank. Now, business advisors everywhere will tell you it's a bad idea to think you can purchase a failing business, infuse it with your cash or your expertise, and save a sinking ship. Sure, sometimes you know exactly where the hole is and how to plug it. But when the hole is the entire economy, your help - even when it comes in very large amounts - is not enough to fix things.
Prince Alwaleed got to watch Citi shares fall, and keep falling, taking his large investment with them. Lesson learned? No matter how rich you are, shifting the recessive leaning of an entire economy may be just a bit more than you can handle.
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Even Donald Trump, an undeniably business-smart billionaire, isn't immune to high-stakes investment blunders. Trump casinos, in which Mr. Trump had a 28% holding, declared bankruptcy in 2009. Trump did manage to sell his shares and recover $2.2 million, and maybe he can afford the loss. But having your business reputation battered isn't good for, well, business.
Celebrity Real Estate Blunders
Even good-looking rich people get burned by bad investments. Consider Nicolas Cage who, despite being one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, faced foreclosure on four of his homes and failed to pay the IRS taxes owed, to the tune of $6 million. The reason Cage was cash-poor? His decision to put millions of dollars into real-estate investments, just before a shaky economy and bloated housing market exploded and collapsed. (For more, check out Celebrity Recession: Stars Who've Lost It All.)
Big amounts of money to invest and amazing good looks, in fact, seem to be a bad combination for investments. The very rich and very gorgeous combination of Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Elle Macpherson and Christy Turlington wasn't enough to save a company with no strong business plan from failing. Their initial investment in Fashion Cafe ended in failure three years after it began.
If money and looks aren't enough to make it, apparently the addition of big muscles doesn't help either. A similarly star-studded restaurant venture, Planet Hollywood, is still around - but barely. The three big, muscled investors - Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone - threw their weight into it with their wallets. And with a businessman like Hard Rock Cafe's former CEO, Robert Earl, overseeing the venture, it seemed like a sure thing. But sure things aren't always sure, even for celebrities; within three years, the stock value had dropped from $32 per share to about $1 per share and the chain went bankrupt soon after.
Music Moguls Lose Out
The supermodel financial failure of the 1990s can be chalked up to over-exuberance, and 2008 and 2009 were tough years for everyone. Maybe these uber-investors were just caught up in the waves of recession like the rest of us, but things didn't necessarily improve for big-money celebrities in 2010. Jay-Z was stuck with a reported $50 million loss on two Manhattan hotel high-rise projects that he had begun in 2007. Bono is estimated to have lost about $140 million with a tech investment in Palm, Inc., a direct competitor of the Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) iPhones. (For more, see Celebrity CEOs.)
The Bottom Line
The lessons we can take away? While we may not be talking in terms of millions, the principles still apply. Sound business advice applies to everyone; don't consider yourself above the impact of an economy in recession, over-spending to save an initially bad investment or just plain old bad timing.
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