Nation: He Has a Passion for Silver

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It cost him billions and nearly caused a panic

It had to be a Texan, of course. Who else could head a small investment group that loses $1 billion on paper in a single day and still has perhaps $2 billion left after that? A Saudi, maybe, and in fact there were three Saudi Arabian colleagues plus a Brazilian. But their leader, the man who shook the world's commodities markets and almost caused a financial panic last week, is an archetypal Texas wheeler-dealer, Nelson Bunker Hunt.

He does not look the part. A 225-lb. man of 54, Bunker Hunt dresses in inexpensive brown suits, though he bridles when they are called cheap ("I don't know where you can buy cheap clothes," he says). He neither smokes nor drinks, drives himself to work in a 1973 Cadillac, and lists his phone number openly in the Dallas telephone directory. His taste in food is plain. Says one associate: "He is the kind of guy who will order chicken-fried steak and JellO, spill some on his tie, and then go out and buy all the silver in the world."

Not quite. The Hunt group's own figures indicate that last week it owned only two-thirds of all the commercial silver that is not in government or industrial users' hands. But Hunt is surely the biggest commodity speculator in the country. He has been accused in the past of trying to corner the market in soybeans as well as silver. He has also made and lost fortunes in oil, directs the Hunt family's control of one of the nation's largest sugar-beet processors, and owns what may be the world's largest stable of race horses (600). Altogether, his activities would doubtless please his late father, the legendary oil billionaire H.L. Hunt.

H.L. was a one-of-a-kind eccentric, a penny pincher who brought his lunch to work in a brown paper bag, a health faddist who crawled on all fours as a form of exercise, a gambler who sometimes had $50,000 riding on a single afternoon's sports events. Says Bunker of his father: "We never disagreed on anything much.

I was the student, he was the teacher and I never argued much." Bunker says the main lesson that he learned from his father was "in business, you should risk a little with the potential to make a lot, not vice versa."

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