Economics is fortunately almost never a zero-sum game; there can be multiple winners and even in the worst of times there can be players who manage to benefit and grow. Such is the case for this latest recession. While Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and hundreds of small banks have disappeared from the landscape (at least as independent entities), others have seen their business or prospects actually improve. (This company survived many financial crises in its long history. Find out what finally drove it to bankruptcy. Check out Case Study: The Collapse of Lehman Brothers.)

IN PICTURES: Top 10 Financial Blessings Of 2009

Here is a short list of some the most notable beneficiaries of this recent recession.

The Oracles
Although there were arguably many voices talking about the housing bubble and the large systematic risks that it was creating, two names really rose out of the noise. NYU economics professor Nouriel Roubini has appeared prophetic with his predictions of how the collapsing housing market would ripple through the economy. Likewise, Nassim Taleb, author of the The Black Swan, has seen his work jump into the spotlight with broad acclaim for its discussions of the flaws inherent in risk assessment and prediction.

Given that authors and academics scarcely enjoy anything more than having people praising their theories and writings (to say nothing of more generous publishing contracts for their follow-up work), they clearly have "won" in this recession.

China
While China did see its growth impacted by the problems in the U.S. economy, the country's government and business leaders did not sit around crying over it. Instead, China extended its hand across the developing world and struck deals across the board for access to minerals, hydrocarbons, timber and other natural resources.

While many American companies were retrenching, cutting headcount and carefully controlling expenses, Chinese companies were aggressively marketing themselves and gaining share at the expense of their larger, but distracted, rivals. With their foot in the door and signed contracts in their briefcases, these Chinese corporations may be difficult to dislodge in the future.

Discounters
Although Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) has actually been an under-performer for the past two years, discounters did seem to get a major boost during the recession as scared or stretched-out shoppers tried to save money while still putting groceries on the table. Family Dollar (NYSE:FDO), Dollar Tree (Nasdaq:DLTR) and Dollar General (NYSE:DG) all enjoyed solid investor interest during the recession, even though the revenue impact is not quite so obvious (though it is certainly worth arguing that these discounters did much better than other retailers on a relative sales basis). Although it is unclear whether American shoppers have permanently embraced a more thrifty approach, perhaps their exposure to these discount retailers softened their opinions a bit and will make them more likely to come back in the future.

IN PICTURES: 10 Biggest All-Star Bargains Of 2009

Borrowers
Although banks have slammed the door on would-be borrowers with problematic credit, those who can get loans are benefiting from incredibly low rates. Mortgages are bumping along at or near multi-decade lows and a flood of Treasury bond buyers has led to a very appealing yield curve for corporate and government borrowers. Even software companies, not historically the most active players in corporate debt, have gotten into the game. This flood of easy money could fund an eventual recovery in mergers and acquisitions - a boon perhaps for boutique firms like Lazard (NYSE:LAZ), Greenhill (NYSE:GHL) and Stifel (NYSE:SF).

Warren Buffett
On quick examination, it would not necessarily be clear that Warren Buffett or Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) benefited from the recession. After all, Berkshire owns many companies tied to construction/housing, banking and corporate spending, and those businesses have all taken body blows in the recession. Moreover, Buffett's holdings in Moody's (NYSE:MCO) and unconvincing "nobody could have seen this coming" testimony in front of Congress did him no favors.

And yet, Buffett still manages to show why he is Warren Buffett. The recession hurt most stocks, but Burlington Northern was cut nearly in half and it can easily be argued that Buffett picked this company up cheaper as a result. Buffett also seemed to take advantage of the typical fatalism that accompanies recessions and market meltdowns with what will likely be a very lucrative sale of some S&P puts. Moreover, an opportunistic "investment" in Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) is paying him $15 a second according to the Wall Street Journal and will clearly work out well for Berkshire Hathaway in the final accounting. (The Oracle of Omaha's "Rip van Winkle" approach has served him well. To learn more, check out Warren Buffett's Best Buys.)

The Bottom Line
Given the magnitude of the fear and chaos during the worst of the credit crunch in 2008, the idea that anybody benefited from it really is testament to the adage that "there's always a bull market somewhere". While most of these entities have had their run and their time in the sun, investors can take away the lesson that opportunism and flexibility really can pay off when things get bad. (Find out where to turn when looking to invest in a tumultuous market. Read Industries That Thrive On Recession.)

For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: Rising Markets And Buffett's Successor.

Related Articles
  1. Investing

    Retirees: 7 Lessons from 2008 for the Next Crisis

    When the last big market crisis hit, many retirees ran to the sidelines. Next time, there are better ways to manage your portfolio.
  2. Economics

    The 2007-08 Financial Crisis In Review

    Subprime lenders began filing for bankruptcy in 2007 -- more than 25 during February and March, alone.
  3. Economics

    Industries That Thrive On Recession

    Recessions are not equally hard on everyone. In fact, there are some industries that even flourish amid the adversity.
  4. Economics

    How Warren Buffet Made Berkshire Hathaway A Winner

    Berkshire Fine Spinning Associated and Hathaway Manufacturing Company merged in 1955 to form Berkshire Hathaway.
  5. Investing News

    What Does the Fire Monkey Mean for Your Portfolio?

    The Chinese new year this year corresponds to the monkey, a quick-witted, playful, tricky figure that means well but has a penchant for causing trouble.
  6. Fundamental Analysis

    Is a U.S. Industrial Recession on the Horizon in 2016?

    Find out why the industrial economy may be teetering on an industrial recession and what could prevent it from going over the cliff.
  7. Retirement

    Warren Buffett's Investment Lessons for Retirees

    For those in retirement, Warren Buffett's clear, timeless advice on investing is worth a look.
  8. Investing News

    Is Buffett's Bet on Oil Right for You? (XOM, PSX)

    Oil stocks are getting trounced, but Warren Buffett still likes one of them. Should you follow the leader?
  9. Fundamental Analysis

    Gloom and Doom for Global Markets in 2016?

    Learn about the volatility in global markets during the beginning of 2016. See why famous investors are saying some economies could see recessions.
  10. Economics

    Lehman Brothers: The Largest Bankruptcy Filing Ever

    Lehman Brothers survived several crises, but the collapse of the U.S. housing market brought the company to its knees.
RELATED FAQS
  1. Which mutual funds made money in 2008?

    Out of the 2,800 mutual funds that Morningstar, Inc., the leading provider of independent investment research in North America, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Do interest rates increase during a recession?

    Interest rates rarely increase during a recession. Actually, the opposite tends to happen; as the economy contracts, interest ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What are the risks of annuities in a recession?

    Annuities come in several forms, the two most common being fixed annuities and variable annuities. During a recession, variable ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How does the risk of investing in the industrial sector compare to the broader market?

    There is increased risk when investing in the industrial sector compared to the broader market due to high debt loads and ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How can I hedge my portfolio to protect from a decline in the retail sector?

    The retail sector provides growth investors with a great opportunity for better-than-average gains during periods of market ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the correlation between term structure of interest rates and recessions?

    There is no question that interest rates have enormous macroeconomic importance. Many economists and analysts believe the ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Flight To Quality

    The action of investors moving their capital away from riskier investments to the safest possible investment vehicles. This ...
  2. Discouraged Worker

    A person who is eligible for employment and is able to work, but is currently unemployed and has not attempted to find employment ...
  3. Ponzimonium

    After Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme was revealed, many new (smaller-scale) Ponzi schemers became exposed. Ponzimonium ...
  4. Quarterly Earnings Report

    A quarterly filing made by public companies to report their performance. Included in earnings reports are items such as net ...
  5. Dark Pool Liquidity

    The trading volume created by institutional orders that are unavailable to the public. The bulk of dark pool liquidity is ...
Trading Center