CHICAGO-Microsoft’s billionaire founder Bill Gates III, through his Kirkland, WA-based firm Cascade Investment LLC, has purchased almost 3.9 million shares of stock in locally based Strategic Hotels and Resorts Inc., according to an SEC filing. With the purchase, Gates owns about 5.23% of the REIT.

The purchase comes at a time that the REIT has downgraded estimates of earnings for 2009, with officers citing the struggling economy, higher construction costs and the drop in group bookings nationwide. Strategic, in its second quarter earnings conference call on Aug. 7, said its lowering its guidance for FFO per share for the rest of the year by 10% to the mid-point of $1.46 to $1.56.

Strategic officials did not return calls for comment. During the Aug. 7 call, president and CEO Laurence Geller said market forces have forced the company to back off on new properties. “The length of time to develop a project in the high-end market is increased by over 20%. Financing is scarce and certainly relatively more expensive than in the recent past,” he says. “As we look at potential competitive supply in those markets in which we operate, our conclusion is simple. If a property is not being built today, then we are unlikely to see any more supply coming in before the end of 2011, at the very earliest.”

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