The Essays of Warren Buffett Summary
Every year for nearly the last half century, Warren Buffet has written an annual letter to his shareholders sharing his views and thinking on markets and investing. This book is a curated collection of the best parts of those letters. It acts as a wonderfully distilled version of his investment philosophy.
The CEOs at Berkshire’s various operating companies enjoy a unique position in corporate America. They are given a simple set of commands: to run their business as if (1) they are its sole owner, (2) it is the only asset they hold, and (3) they can never sell or merge it for a hundred years
Buffett thinks most markets are not purely efficient and that equating volatility with risk is a gross distortion.
“It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.”
instead of “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” we get Mark Twain’s advice from Pudd’nhead Wilson: “Put all your eggs in one basket—and watch that basket.”
One of Graham’s most profound contributions is a character who lives on Wall Street, Mr. Market. He is your hypothetical business partner who is daily willing to buy your interest in a business or sell you his at prevailing market prices. Mr. Market is moody, prone to manic swings from joy to despair. Sometimes he offers prices way higher than value; sometimes he offers prices way lower than value. The more manic-depressive he is, the greater the spread between price and value, and therefore the greater the investment opportunities he offers.
Notes: 1) true in private markets too
Another leading prudential legacy from Graham is his margin-of-safety principle. This principle holds that one should not make an investment in a security unless there is a sufficient basis for believing that the price being paid is substantially lower than the value being delivered.
Graham had said that if forced to distill the secret of sound investment into three words, they would be: margin of safety.
Notes: 1) what kills you is losses. always protect your downside.
The circle of competence principle is the third leg of the Graham/Buffett stool of intelligent investing, along with Mr. Market and the margin of safety. This commonsense rule instructs investors to consider investments only concerning businesses they are capable of understanding with a modicum of effort. It is this commitment to stick with what he knows that enables Buffett to avoid the mistakes others repeatedly make, particularly those who feast on the fantasies of fast riches promised by technological fads and new era rhetoric that have recurrently infested speculative markets over the centuries.
Wall Street tends to embrace ideas based on revenue-generating power, rather than on financial sense, a tendency that often perverts good ideas to bad ones.
Buffett also puts his money where his mouth is, reminding prospective sellers that Berkshire has acquired many of its businesses from family or other closely-held groups, and inviting them to check with every previous seller about Berkshire’s initial promises measured against its later actions. In short, Berkshire seeks to be the buyer of choice for attractive business sellers—a lesson so important that it explains why Buffett prefers to retain rather than sell even those acquired businesses that struggle against business headwinds.
Notes: 1) reputation is so valuable
companies obtain the shareholder constituency that they seek and deserve. If they focus their thinking and communications on short-term results or short-term stock market consequences they will, in large part, attract shareholders who focus on the same factors. And if they are cynical in their treatment of investors, eventually that cynicism is highly likely to be returned by the investment community.
Charlie’s family has [80–90%] of its net worth in Berkshire shares; and I have about [98–99%]. In addition, many of my relatives—my sisters and cousins, for example—keep a huge portion of their net worth in Berkshire stock.
Notes: 1) incentives are so importtant
Our long-term economic goal (subject to some qualifications mentioned later) is to maximize Berkshire’s average annual rate of gain in intrinsic business value on a per-share basis.
Notes: 1) intrinsic value is key and not the same as market vaue
“To finish first, you must first finish.”
The financial calculus that Charlie and I employ would never permit our trading a good night’s sleep for a shot at a few extra percentage points of return. I’ve never believed in risking what my family and friends have and need in order to pursue what they don’t have and don’t need.
The CEO who misleads others in public may eventually mislead himself in private.
a good managerial record (measured by economic returns) is far more a function of what business boat you get into than it is of how effectively you row (though intelligence and effort help considerably, of course, in any business, good or bad). Should you find yourself in a chronically-leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.
Notes: 1) table selection
“If you want to get a reputation as a good businessman, be sure to get into a good business.”
We must continue to measure every act against not only what is legal but also what we would be happy to have written about on the front page of a national newspaper in an article written by an unfriendly but intelligent reporter.
When investing, we view ourselves as business analysts—not as market analysts, not as macroeconomic analysts, and not even as security analysts.
“In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run it is a weighing machine.” The speed at which a business’s success is recognized, furthermore, is not that important as long as the company’s intrinsic value is increasing at a satisfactory rate.
“Develop your eccentricities while you are young. That way, when you get old, people won’t think you’re going ga-ga.”
we would rather achieve a return of X while associating with people whom we strongly like and admire than realize 110% of X by exchanging these relationships for uninteresting or unpleasant ones.
Over the 63 years, the general market delivered just under a 10% annual return, including dividends. That means $1,000 would have grown to $405,000 if all income had been reinvested. A 20% rate of return, however, would have produced $97 million. That strikes us a statistically-significant differential that might, conceivably, arouse one’s curiosity.
Charlie and I decided long ago that in an investment lifetime it’s too hard to make hundreds of smart decisions. That judgment became ever more compelling as Berkshire’s capital mushroomed and the universe of investments that could significantly affect our results shrank dramatically. Therefore, we adopted a strategy that required our being smart—and not too smart at that—only a very few times. Indeed, we’ll now settle for one good idea a year. (Charlie says it’s my turn.)
We believe that a policy of portfolio concentration may well decrease risk if it raises, as it should, both the intensity with which an investor thinks about a business and the comfort-level he must feel with its economic characteristics before buying into it. In stating this opinion, we define risk, using dictionary terms, as “the possibility of loss or injury.” Academics, however, like to define investment “risk” differently, averring that it is the relative volatility of a stock or portfolio of stocks—that is, their volatility as compared to that of a large universe of stocks. Employing data bases and statistical skills, these academics compute with precision the “beta” of a stock—its relative volatility in the past—and then build arcane investment and capital-allocation theories around this calculation. In their hunger for a single statistic to measure risk, however, they forget a fundamental principle: It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.
Notes: 1) this is so crucial. the definition we use for risk is volatility and not loss which is stupid.
the true investor welcomes volatility. Ben Graham explained why in Chapter 8 of The Intelligent Investor. There he introduced “Mr. Market,” an obliging fellow [noted above] who shows up every day to either buy from you or sell to you, whichever you wish. The more manic-depressive this chap is, the greater the opportunities available to the investor. That’s true because a wildly fluctuating market means that irrationally low prices will periodically be attached to solid businesses. It is impossible to see how the availability of such prices can be thought of as increasing the hazards for an investor who is totally free to either ignore the market or exploit its folly.
Notes: 1) the true entrepreneer like volatilithy too because it means more opportunity. oh sweet volatility 2) the true entrepreneer like volatilithy too because it means more opportunity. oh sweet volatility. the book business dying is great bc it creates opprtunity
Thus, you may consciously purchase a risky investment—one that indeed has a significant possibility of causing loss or injury—if you believe that your gain, weighted for probabilities, considerably exceeds your loss, comparably weighted, and if you can commit to a number of similar, but unrelated opportunities. Most venture capitalists employ this strategy. Should you choose to pursue this course, you should adopt the outlook of the casino that owns a roulette wheel, which will want to see lots of action because it is favored by probabilities, but will refuse to accept a single, huge bet.
Paradoxically, when “dumb” money acknowledges its limitations, it ceases to be dumb.
If my universe of business possibilities was limited, say, to private companies in Omaha, I would, first, try to assess the long-term economic characteristics of each business; second, assess the quality of the people in charge of running it; and, third, try to buy into a few of the best operations at a sensible price
Our motto is: “If at first you do succeed, quit trying.”
John Maynard Keynes, whose brilliance as a practicing investor matched his brilliance in thought, wrote a letter to a business associate, F.C. Scott, on August 15, 1934 that says it all: “As time goes on, I get more and more convinced that the right method in investment is to put fairly large sums into enterprises which one thinks one knows something about and in the management of which one thoroughly believes. It is a mistake to think that one limits one’s risk by spreading too much between enterprises about which one knows little and has no reason for special confidence. One’s knowledge and experience are definitely limited and there are seldom more than two or three enterprises at any given time in which I personally feel myself entitled to put full confidence.”
Instead of focusing on what businesses will do in the years ahead, many prestigious money managers now focus on what they expect other money managers to do in the days ahead.
Many commentators, however, have drawn an incorrect conclusion upon observing recent events: They are fond of saying that the small investor has no chance in a market now dominated by the erratic behavior of the big boys. This conclusion is dead wrong: Such markets are ideal for any investor—small or large—so long as he sticks to his investment knitting.
Notes: 1) yes. you can do things they can b/c they reprt to unsophisticated investors.
He can be hurt by such volatility only if he is forced, by either financial or psychological pressures, to sell at untoward times.
Notes: 1) how do you make sure that you never go broke?
Our goal is to find an outstanding business at a sensible price, not a mediocre business at a bargain price.
we make a mistake about the managers we link up with, the controlled company offers a certain advantage because we have the power to effect change. In practice, however, this advantage is somewhat illusory: Management changes, like marital changes, are painful, time-consuming and chancy.
Notes: 1) hiring new management not a good value add
I would say that the controlled company offers two main advantages. First, when we control a company we get to allocate capital, whereas we are likely to have little or nothing to say about this process with marketable holdings.
The second advantage of a controlled company over a marketable security has to do with taxes. Berkshire, as a corporate holder, absorbs some significant tax costs through the ownership of partial positions that we do not when our ownership is 80% or greater.
Notes: 1) you also get tax advantags from owning
We want the business to be one (a) that we can understand; (b) with favorable long-term prospects; (c) operated by honest and competent people; and (d) available at a very attractive price.”
The value of any stock, bond or business today is determined by the cash inflows and outflows—discounted at an appropriate interest rate—that can be expected to occur during the remaining life of the asset.
The investment shown by the discounted-flows-of-cash calculation to be the cheapest is the one that the investor should purchase—irrespective of whether the business grows or doesn’t, displays volatility or smoothness in its earnings, or carries a high price or low [price] in relation to its current earnings and book value.
the best business to own is one that over an extended period can employ large amounts of incremental capital at very high rates of return.
Notes: 1) optimize for free cash flow
First, we try to stick to businesses we believe we understand. That means they must be relatively simple and stable in character. If a business is complex or subject to constant change, we’re not smart enough to predict future cash flows. Incidentally, that shortcoming doesn’t bother us.
What counts for most people in investing is not how much they know, but rather how realistically they define what they don’t know. An investor needs to do very few things right as long as he or she avoids big mistakes.
Second, and equally important, we insist on a margin of safety in our purchase price. If we calculate the value of a common stock to be only slightly higher than its price, we’re not interested in buying. We believe this margin-of-safety principle, so strongly emphasized by Ben Graham, to be the cornerstone of investment success.
(No matter how great the talent or effort, some things just take time: you can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.)
Inactivity strikes us as intelligent behavior.
Loss of focus is what most worries Charlie and me when we contemplate investing in businesses that in general look outstanding.
You don’t have to be an expert on every company, or even many. You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.
If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes. Put together a portfolio of companies whose aggregate earnings march upward over the years, and so also will the portfolio’s market value.
Notes: 1) if you arent willing to hold the biz for ten years don’t touch it.
If we have a strength, it is in recognizing when we are operating well within our circle of competence and when we are approaching the perimeter.
if you buy a business for $8 million that can be sold or liquidated for $10 million and promptly take either course, you can realize a high return. But the investment will disappoint if the business is sold for $10 million in ten years and in the interim has annually earned and distributed only a few percent on cost. Time is the friend of the wonderful business, the enemy of the mediocre.
when a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.
Notes: 1) market always wins
Our consistently-conservative financial policies may appear to have been a mistake, but in my view were not. In retrospect, it is clear that significantly higher, though still conventional, leverage ratios at Berkshire would have produced considerably better returns on equity than the 23.8% we have actually averaged. Even in 1965, perhaps we could have judged there to be a 99% probability that higher leverage would lead to nothing but good. Correspondingly, we might have seen only a 1% chance that some shock factor, external or internal, would cause a conventional debt ratio to produce a result falling somewhere between temporary anguish and default. We wouldn’t have liked those 99:1 odds—and never will. A small chance of distress or disgrace cannot, in our view, be offset by a large chance of extra returns. If your actions are sensible, you are certain to get good results; in most such cases, leverage just moves things along faster. Charlie and I have never been in a big hurry: We enjoy the process far more than the proceeds—though we have learned to live with those also.
Notes: 1) no rush. No risk of ruin. Get rick slowly.
leverage all too often produces zeroes, even when it is employed by very smart people.
Notes: 1) leverage is fragile. one mistake kills you
have usually made our best purchases when apprehensions about some macro event were at a peak. Fear is the foe of the faddist, but the friend of the fundamentalist.
Last Updated on April 18, 2019 by RipplePop