Warren Buffett

Managers and investors alike must understand that accounting numbers are the beginning, not the end, of business valuation.

Warren Edward Buffett (born 30 August 1930) is an American investor and the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

QuotesEdit

  • Never count on making a good sale. Have the purchase price be so attractive that even a mediocre sale gives good results.
    • As quoted in Roger Lowenstein, Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, p. 77 (1995)
  • To [Buffett] the perfect amount to leave children is "enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing."
  • One of RJR's largest shareholders, he knew tobacco and liked it. "I'll tell you why I like the cigarette business," he said. "It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It's addictive. And there's fantastic brand loyalty."
    • Quoted by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar, Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco (1989)
  • I don't have a problem with guilt about money. The way I see it is that my money represents an enormous number of claim checks on society. It is like I have these little pieces of paper that I can turn into consumption. If I wanted to, I could hire 10,000 people to do nothing but paint my picture every day for the rest of my life. And the GNP would go up. But the utility of the product would be zilch, and I would be keeping those 10,000 people from doing AIDS research, or teaching, or nursing. I don't do that though. I don't use very many of those claim checks. There's nothing material I want very much. And I'm going to give virtually all of those claim checks to charity when my wife and I die.
    • Quoted by Janet C. Lowe, in Warren Buffett Speaks: Wit and Wisdom from the World's Greatest Investor (1997), pp. 165-166
  • If you understood a business perfectly and the future of the business, you would need very little in the way of a margin of safety. So, the more vulnerable the business is, assuming you still want to invest in it, the larger margin of safety you'd need. If you're driving a truck across a bridge that says it holds 10,000 pounds and you've got a 9,800 pound vehicle, if the bridge is 6 inches above the crevice it covers, you may feel okay, but if it's over the Grand Canyon, you may feel you want a little larger margin of safety...
    • 1997 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, quoted in Andrew Kilpatrick, Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett (Vol. 2), p. 1615
  • Investors making purchases in an overheated market need to recognize that it may often take an extended period for the value of even an outstanding company to catch up with the price they paid.
    • 1998 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, quoted in The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America (1998), p. 92
  • We don't get paid for activity, just for being right. As to how long we'll wait, we'll wait indefinitely.
    • 1998 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, quoted in Frank Partnoy, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay (2012), p. 177
  • Success in investing doesn't correlate with I.Q. once you're above the level of 25. Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.
  • If I was running $1 million today, or $10 million for that matter, I'd be fully invested. Anyone who says that size does not hurt investment performance is selling. The highest rates of return I've ever achieved were in the 1950s. I killed the Dow. You ought to see the numbers. But I was investing peanuts then. It's a huge structural advantage not to have a lot of money. I think I could make you 50% a year on $1 million. No, I know I could. I guarantee that.
  • We're more comfortable in that kind of business. It means we miss a lot of very big winners. But we wouldn't know how to pick them out anyway. It also means we have very few big losers - and that's quite helpful over time. We're perfectly willing to trade away a big payoff for a certain payoff.
  • The stock market is a no-called-strike game. You don't have to swing at everything—you can wait for your pitch. The problem when you're a money manager is that your fans keep yelling, "Swing, you bum!"
    • 1999 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, quoted in Mary Buffett and David Clark, The Tao of Warren Buffett, p. 145
  • Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
    • January 1991, as quoted in Andrew Kilpatrick, Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett
  • It's class warfare. My class is winning, but they shouldn't be.
  • You couldn't advance in a finance department in this country unless you taught that the world was flat.
  • Take me as an example. I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I'd been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can't run very fast. I'm not particularly strong. I'd probably end up as some wild animal's dinner.
  • The 400 of us pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you're in the luckiest 1 percent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 percent.
  • I try to buy stock in businesses that are so wonderful that an idiot can run them. Because sooner or later, one will.
    • In a panel discussion after the premier of the 2008 documentary I.O.U.S.A.. Panel at the Premier, 0:05:42ff., DVD extras, I.O.U.S.A. (2008)
  • It's like a tapeworm eating at our economic body.
    • Interview on CNBC (March 1, 2010), comparing the 17% of GDP spent by the U.S. on healthcare costs with the 9-10% paid by many other countries
  • If you invested in a very low cost index fund – where you don’t put the money in at one time, but average in over 10 years –you’ll do better than 90% of people who start investing at the same time.

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman's Letters to ShareholdersEdit

Buffett writes an annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders.

  • An irresistable footnote: in 1971, pension fund managers invested a record 122% of net funds available in equities - at full prices they couldn't buy enough of them. In 1974, after the bottom had fallen out, they committed a then record low of 21% to stocks.
  • We have tried occasionally to buy toads at bargain prices with results that have been chronicled in past reports. Clearly our kisses fell flat. We have done well with a couple of princes—but they were princes when purchased. At least our kisses didn’t turn them into toads. And, finally, we have occasionally been quite successful in purchasing fractional interests in easily-identifiable princes at toad-like prices.
  • When returns on capital are ordinary, an earn-more-by-putting-up-more record is no great managerial achievement. You can get the same result personally while operating from your rocking chair. just quadruple the capital you commit to a savings account and you will quadruple your earnings. You would hardly expect hosannas for that particular accomplishment. Yet, retirement announcements regularly sing the praises of CEOs who have, say, quadrupled earnings of their widget company during their reign - with no one examining whether this gain was attributable simply to many years of retained earnings and the workings of compound interest.
  • Ben [Graham]'s Mr. Market allegory may seem out-of-date in today's investment world, in which most professionals and academicians talk of efficient markets, dynamic hedging and betas. Their interest in such matters is understandable, since techniques shrouded in mystery clearly have value to the purveyor of investment advice. After all, what witch doctor has ever achieved fame and fortune by simply advising "Take two aspirins"?
  • Over the years, Charlie [Munger, Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman] and I have observed many accounting-based frauds of staggering size. Few of the perpetrators have been punished; many have not even been censured. It has been far safer to steal large sums with pen than small sums with a gun.
  • In fact, when we own portions of outstanding businesses with outstanding managements, our favorite holding period is forever.
  • For example: (1) As if governed by Newton's First Law of Motion, an institution will resist any change in its current direction; (2) Just as work expands to fill available time, corporate projects or acquisitions will materialize to soak up available funds; (3) Any business craving of the leader, however foolish, will be quickly supported by detailed rate-of-return and strategic studies prepared by his troops; and (4) The behavior of peer companies, whether they are expanding, acquiring, setting executive compensation or whatever, will be mindlessly imitated.
  • The most common cause of low prices is pessimism—some times [sic] pervasive, some times[sic] specific to a company or industry. We want to do business in such an environment, not because we like pessimism but because we like the prices it produces. It's optimism that is the enemy of the rational buyer.
  • Our stay-put behavior reflects our view that the stock market serves as a relocation center at which money is moved from the active to the patient.
  • We've long felt that the only value of stock forecasters is to make fortune tellers look good. Even now, Charlie and I continue to believe that short-term market forecasts are poison and should be kept locked up in a safe place, away from children and also from grown-ups who behave in the market like children.
  • The strategy we've adopted precludes our following standard diversification dogma. Many pundits would therefore say the strategy must be riskier than that employed by more conventional investors. We disagree. 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."
  • In a bull market, one must avoid the error of the preening duck that quacks boastfully after a torrential rainstorm, thinking that its paddling skills have caused it to rise in the world. A right-thinking duck would instead compare its position after the downpour to that of the other ducks on the pond.
  • But now for the final exam: If you expect to be a net saver during the next five years, should you hope for a higher or lower stock market during that period? Many investors get this one wrong. Even though they are going to be net buyers of stocks for many years to come, they are elated when stock prices rise and depressed when they fall. In effect, they rejoice because prices have risen for the "hamburgers" they will soon be buying. This reaction makes no sense. Only those who will be sellers of equities in the near future should be happy at seeing stocks rise. Prospective purchasers should much prefer sinking prices.
    • 1997 Chairman's Letter
  • Our future rates of gain will fall far short of those achieved in the past. Berkshire's capital base is now simply too large to allow us to earn truly outsized returns. If you believe otherwise, you should consider a career in sales but avoid one in mathematics (bearing in mind that there are really only three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can't).
  • Intrinsic value can be defined simply: It is the discounted value of the cash that can be taken out of a business during its remaining life. The calculation of intrinsic value, though, is not so simple. As our definition suggests, intrinsic value is an estimate rather than a precise figure, and it is additionally an estimate that must be changed if interest rates move or forecasts of future cash flows are revised.
  • We will reject interesting opportunities rather than over-leverage our balance sheet.
    • Berkshire Hathaway Inc.: An Owner's Manual (1999)
  • Those who attended [the annual meeting] last year saw your Chairman pitch to Ernie Banks. This encounter proved to be the titanic duel that the sports world had long awaited. After the first few pitches—which were not my best, but when have I ever thrown my best?—I fired a brushback at Ernie just to let him know who was in command. Ernie charged the mound, and I charged the plate. But a clash was avoided because we became exhausted before reaching each other.
  • The line separating investment and speculation, which is never bright and clear, becomes blurred still further when most market participants have recently enjoyed triumphs. Nothing sedates rationality like large doses of effortless money. After a heady experience of that kind, normally sensible people drift into behavior akin to that of Cinderella at the ball. They know that overstaying the festivities—that is, continuing to speculate in companies that have gigantic valuations relative to the cash they are likely to generate in the future—will eventually bring on pumpkins and mice. But they nevertheless hate to miss a single minute of what is one helluva party. Therefore, the giddy participants all plan to leave just seconds before midnight. There's a problem, though: They are dancing in a room in which the clocks have no hands.
  • Instead, we try to apply Aesop's 2,600-year-old equation to opportunities in which we have reasonable confidence as to how many birds are in the bush and when they will emerge (a formulation that my grandsons would probably update to "A girl in a convertible is worth five in the phonebook.").
    • 2000 Chairman's Letter
  • But a pin lies in wait for every bubble. And when the two eventually meet, a new wave of investors learns some very old lessons: First, many in Wall Street æ a community in which quality control is not prized æ will sell investors anything they will buy. Second, speculation is most dangerous when it looks easiest.
    • 2000 Chairman's Letter
  • Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies. And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.
  • Long ago, Sir Isaac Newton gave us three laws of motion, which were the work of genius. But Sir Isaac's talents didn't extend to investing: He lost a bundle in the South Sea Bubble, explaining later, "I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men." If he had not been traumatized by this loss, Sir Isaac might well have gone on to discover the Fourth Law of Motion: For investors as a whole, returns decrease as motion increases.
  • The worst sort of business is one that grows rapidly, requires significant capital to engender the growth, and then earns little or no money. Think airlines. Here a durable competitive advantage has proven elusive ever since the days of the Wright Brothers. Indeed, if a farsighted capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down.
  • I've reluctantly discarded the notion of my continuing to manage the portfolio after my death—abandoning my hope to give new meaning to the term "thinking outside the box."
    • 2007 Chairman's Letter
  • Long ago, Ben Graham taught me that “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.” Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.
  • Putting people into homes, though a desirable goal, shouldn’t be our country’s primary objective. Keeping them in their homes should be the ambition.
    • 2008 Chairman's Letter
  • We never want to count on the kindness of strangers in order to meet tomorrow’s obligations. When forced to choose, I will not trade even a night’s sleep for the chance of extra profits.
    • 2008 Chairman's Letter
  • Upon leaving [the derivatives business], our feelings about the business mirrored a line in a country song: "I liked you better before I got to know you so well."
    • 2008 Chairman's Letter

SelectedEdit

  • It's got to be the best intellectual exercise out there. You're seeing through new situations every ten minutes…In the stock market you don't base your decisions on what the market is doing, but on what you think is rational….Bridge is about weighing gain/loss ratios. You're doing calculations all the time.
    • Forbes. June 2, 1997.[1]
  • The approach and strategies are very similar in that you gather all the information you can and then keep adding to that base of information as things develop. You do whatever the probabilities indicated based on the knowledge that you have at that time, but you are always willing to modify your behaviour or your approach as you get new information. In bridge, you behave in a way that gets the best from your partner. And in business, you behave in the way that gets the best from your managers and your employees.
  • I wouldn't mind going to jail if I had three cellmates who played bridge.
  • Rule No.1: Never lose money. Rule No.2: Never forget rule No.1.
  • I always knew I was going to be rich. I don't think I ever doubted it for a minute.
  • Some material things make my life more enjoyable; many, however, would not. I like having an expensive private plane, but owning a half-dozen homes would be a burden. Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner. The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends.
    My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest. Both my children and I won what I call the ovarian lottery. (For starters, the odds against my 1930 birth taking place in the U.S. were at least 30 to 1. My being male and white also removed huge obstacles that a majority of Americans then faced.) My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well. I’ve worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions. In short, fate’s distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.
    The reaction of my family and me to our extraordinary good fortune is not guilt, but rather gratitude. Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others. That reality sets an obvious course for me and my family: Keep all we can conceivably need and distribute the rest to society, for its needs. My pledge starts us down that course.

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External linksEdit

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Last modified on 20 March 2014, at 05:21