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If this keeps up, Warren Buffett might as well put a "Kick Me" sign on his back.

Once revered universally for his stock-picking prowess and homespun investing wisdom, the world's second-richest man has suffered one bruising indignity after another lately.

A prominent trader labelled him an "idiot." Shares of his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. have been tumbling. And bids on eBay for a charity lunch with the Oracle of Omaha are well below previous years.

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Suddenly, Mr. Buffett is getting no respect.

To be sure, recent investments haven't lived up to his reputation for brilliance. Berkshire stock is down about 44 per cent from its 2007 high - it had fallen for seven straight days before rebounding yesterday - and several picks he made in the past few years are under water.

ConocoPhillips, for instance, is trading for roughly half of the average price Berkshire paid for its stake. Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods Inc. and U.S. Bancorp are also down by double digits.

"You have to look at the times we're in," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies & Co. in Boston, and a loyal Buffett admirer. "It's easy when things are in so much disarray to try to find people to take a shot at."

After a speech in Oregon this month, U.S. trader and newsletter writer Dennis Gartman singled out Mr. Buffett for harsh criticism, saying he did nothing to protect investors from steep losses last year.

"Warren Buffett is an idiot," he told a reporter.

"Shame on Warren Buffett. That'll be a good quote for your article."

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In a subsequent interview with CNBC, Mr. Gartman - who is short Berkshire shares - backtracked on the "idiot" insult, calling Mr. Buffett a "genius investor." But in yesterday's edition of the Gartman Letter, he again criticized Berkshire's performance, going so far as to predict the stock will "trade materially ... perhaps even massively ... lower" after Mr. Buffett, 78, dies.

Of course, the past year was brutal for most investors, particularly buy-and-hold advocates such as Mr. Buffett who generally don't hedge their positions.

The slumping economy also helps explain why people aren't lining up for a chance to have a "power lunch" with the billionaire to benefit the Glide Foundation, a San Francisco charity that aims to alleviate poverty and homelessness.

On eBay yesterday afternoon, the highest bidder was offering $135,678 (U.S.). Last year's winning bid, from a Chinese hedge fund manager, was $2.1-million, and in each of the previous two years bids topped $600,000.

The auction still has two days to go, so the price will likely move higher. But given the recession, breaking last year's record looks doubtful.

"Lunch with Warren Buffett is an expensive luxury item, and all luxury items are suffering. So I think it's less of an indictment of Warren Buffett ... than it is a statement about where we stand in the economy right now," Mr. Hogan said.

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Despite Berkshire's stumbles and the verbal stones being hurled in Mr. Buffett's direction, Mr. Hogan isn't counting him out just yet.

"You're looking at a man who has a long track record of being right more than he's wrong. I would say if we were to come back a year later and say, 'Okay who was right?,' I'd be willing to bet that it's going to be Warren Buffett before it's Dennis Gartman."

Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B)

Close: $2,793.95 (U.S.), up $32.45

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