Warren Buffett has published his latest annual letter to shareholders in Berkshire Hathaway. As usual it contains several words of wisdom on investment and I’ll pick out a few interesting points:
He does not believe in efficient stock markets and says: “It’s crucial to understand that stocks often trade at truly foolish prices, both high and low. Efficient markets exist only in textbooks. In truth, marketable stocks and bonds are baffling, their behavior usually understandable only in retrospect.
He relates how his capital allocation decisions and stock picking have been “no better than so-so” offset by a few good decisions and good luck. He emphasises this lesson for investors of holding on to your winners but selling your losing investments: “The weeds wither away in significance as the flowers bloom. Over time, it takes just a few winners to work wonders. And, yes, it helps to start early and live into your 90s as well”.
Buffett justifies share buy-backs which Berkshire did in 2022 as did some of their investee holdings. He says: “The math isn’t complicated: When the share count goes down, your interest in our many businesses goes up. Every small bit helps if repurchases are made at value-accretive prices. Just as surely, when a company overpays for repurchases, the continuing shareholders lose. At such times, gains flow only to the selling shareholders and to the friendly, but expensive, investment banker who recommended the foolish purchases”.
Comment: Management often have a strong incentive to advocate share repurchases as their incentive schemes are often based on earnings per share. Also they think it might help the share price. I frequently vote against share buy-backs because there are usually better ways for a company to use any surplus cash. Buffett may be one of the few people who can rationally value the benefit of share buy-backs and can be trusted to act in the interest of shareholders.
Charlie Munger, Warren’s partner and aged 98 has some interesting comments on railroads (they own BNSF). He says: “Warren and I hated railroad stocks for decades, but the world changed and finally the country had four huge railroads of vital importance to the American economy. We were slow to recognize the change, but better late than never”. As railroads are a natural monopoly because it’s very difficult to build new ones, one wonders why British railways consistently lose money while BNSF is very profitable. Management is surely the difference.
Warren continues to “bet on America” but the key message is invest in companies that can grow and compound their earnings and then have patience.
Full Newsletter Text: https://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/2022ltr.pdf
Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )
You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address below. You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.