Back in October, revered billionaire investor Warren Buffett offered up some advice to anxious Americans: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful."
A few other brazen billionaires who have the cash—and intestinal fortitude—are following that same maxim and making big bets amid the deepening global recession.
America's richest shareholder activist, Carl Icahn, whose firm has interests in biotech, metals and home fashion, is now making moves in entertainment and gaming. He is offering to buy $325 million in convertible debt in boutique movie studio Lions Gate Entertainment after having upped his stake in the studio to 14.5% earlier this year; Lions Gate has apparently just hired an advisory team to launch a defense against Icahn. The financier is also part of a group that says it plans to bid for troubled Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., in a bankruptcy court action expected in a few weeks.
Despite losing $500 million in past six months due to plunging markets, Wilbur Ross is sticking by his strategy of buying up failing companies. In January he paid $7.3 million for a controlling stake in Florida's First Bank & Trust, and last September, he invested $80 million in low-cost Indian airline SpiceJet. Still scouting for bargains, Ross tells Forbes he's mainly hunting in the financial services sector.
Saudi hotel magnate Mohamed bin Issa Al Jaber is in talks to acquire all 12 of Starwood's French luxury hotels for around $2.6 billion. Al Jaber's proposal, announced in October, would add one of the world's oldest luxury hotels, Paris' Hôtel de Crillon, to his clutch of European trophy properties. "I have always deliberately bought trophy hotels in prime locations, ensuring these properties will appreciate in value for the foreseeable future," he says.
Other big names on the hunt include grocery magnate John Catsimatidis, who's trying to reorganize bankrupt energy company SemGroup; Gerald Ford, who is hunting for bargains in beaten-down banking sector; and Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who bought a big stake in investment bank Renaissance Capital last fall and still has an estimated $5 billion in cash.
Making big bets in bad times has reaped billions for history's best contrarian risk-takers, including Icahn, Buffett and hedge fund pioneer George Soros. Soros' famous 1992 bet against the British pound is said to have earned him $1 billion in a single day.