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GE to buy back Buffett's financial crisis stake

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(Reuters) - General Electric Co <GE.N> said on Tuesday it would buy back Berkshire Hathaway Inc's <BRKa.N> preferred stake in the largest U.S. conglomerate, handing back a lifeline it grabbed during the 2008 financial crisis.

The company said in a regulatory filing it would pay $3.3 billion, plus unpaid dividends, to cash in famed U.S. investor Warren Buffett's stake, which paid a 10 percent dividend. The redemption date has been set for October 17.

With the long-awaited move, GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt will aim to close one of the most difficult chapters in the company's history, when trouble at its GE Capital finance arm threatened to take down the entire company.

Buffett bought his preferred stake in GE in October 2008, just a week after taking a $5 billion preferred stake in Goldman Sachs Group Inc <GS.N>. The investments were intended to signal his confidence in two storied U.S. companies during a financial crisis he likened to an "economic Pearl Harbor."

That vote of confidence came at a price: GE will have paid Berkshire nearly $1 billion in dividends over the life of the investment.

In his annual investor letter earlier this year, Buffett lamented the likelihood that GE would redeem the shares, saying it would be an "unwelcome" event that would hurt Berkshire's earnings power.

GE shares fell 3 percent to $14.95 in after-hours trading. Berkshire shares were unchanged. (Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston and Ben Berkowitz in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)