Tag Archives: warren buffett investment criteria

Warren Buffett’s Rip Van Winkle approach

ripvanwinle
Statue of Rip van Winkle in Irvington, New York, not far from “Sunnyside”, the home of Washington Irving. – Wikipedia

In his letter (dated February 28, 1992 for FY1991) to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Warren Buffett gave an insight into his Rip Van Winkle approach to investing. Referring to a list of Berkshire Hathaway’s common stock holdings – comprising Capital Cities/ABC Inc, The Coca-Cola Company, Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp, GEICO Corp, The Gillette Company, Guinness PLC,  The Washington Post Company and Wells Fargo & Company – Warren Buffett said:  “As usual the list reflects our Rip Van Winkle approach to investing. Guinness is a new position. But we held the other seven stocks a year ago (making allowance for the conversion of our Gillette position from preferred to common) and in six of those we hold an unchanged number of shares. The exception is Federal Home Loan Mortgage (“Freddie Mac”), in which our shareholdings increased slightly. 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.

“(With tongue only partly in check, I suggest that recent events indicate that the much-maligned “idle rich” have received a bad rap: They have maintained or increased their wealth while many of the “energetic rich” – aggressive real estate operators, corporate acquirers, oil drillers, etc. – have seen their fortunes disappear.) Our Guinness holding represents Berkshire’s first significant investment in a company domiciled outside the United States. Guinness, however, earns its money in much the same fashion as Coca-Cola and Gillette, U.S.-based companies that garner most of their profits from international operations. Indeed, in the sense of where they earn their profits – continent-by-continent – Coca- Cola and Guinness display strong similarities. (But you’ll never get their drinks confused – and your Chairman remains unmovably in the Cherry Coke camp.) ”

Warren Buffett then went on to give an insight into his selection criteria, saying: “We continually search for large businesses with understandable, enduring and mouth-watering economics that are run by able and shareholder-oriented managements. This focus doesn’t guarantee results: We both have to buy at a sensible price and get business performance from our companies that validates our assessment. But this investment approach – searching for the superstars – offers us our only chance for real success. Charlie and I are simply not smart enough, considering the large sums we work with, to get great results by adroitly buying and selling portions of far-from-great businesses. Nor do we think many others can achieve long-term investment success by flitting from flower to flower. Indeed, we believe that according the name “investors” to institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a romantic.”

Notable quote

This statement from Warren Buffett is worth repeating here: “Nor do we think many others can achieve long-term investment success by flitting from flower to flower. Indeed, we believe that according the name “investors” to institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a romantic.”

Warren Buffett continued: “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. I certainly would not wish to own an equal part of every business in town. Why, then, should Berkshire take a different tack when dealing with the larger universe of public companies? And since finding great businesses and outstanding managers is so difficult, why should we discard proven products? (I was tempted to say “the real thing.”) Our motto is: “If at first you do succeed, quit trying.” ”

Warren Buffett then went on to share this view: ” 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.”

Recommended reading:

(1) The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, Third Edition

(2) Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders, 1965-2013

Warren Buffett goes for the long haul

Warren Buffett goes for the long haul when it comes to marketable equity securities. As far back as March 14, 1978, he said in his FY1977 letter to stockholders of Berkshire Hathaway: “When prices are appropriate, we are willing to take very large positions in selected companies, not with any intention of taking control and not foreseeing sell-out or merger, but with the expectation that excellent business results by corporations will translate over the long term into correspondingly excellent market value and dividend results for owners, minority as well as majority.”

How does Warren Buffett pick marketable equity securities? In that same letter, he said:

“We select our marketable equity securities in much the same way we would evaluate a business for acquisition in its entirety. We want the business to be (1) one that we can understand, (2) with favorable long-term prospects, (3) operated by honest and competent people, and (4) available at a very attractive price.”

Warren Buffett went on to say: “We ordinarily make no attempt to buy equities for anticipated favorable stock price behavior in the short term. In fact, if their business experience continues to satisfy us, we welcome lower market prices of stocks we own as an opportunity to acquire even more of a good thing at a better price.”

What is Warren Buffett’s rationale?

“Our experience has been that pro-rata portions of truly outstanding businesses sometimes sell in the securities markets at very large discounts from the prices they would command in negotiated transactions involving entire companies. Consequently, bargains in business ownership, which simply are not available directly through corporate acquisition, can be obtained indirectly through stock ownership,” he said in his FY1977 letter.

Recommended reading:

(1) The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, Third Edition

(2) Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders, 1965-2013

Warren Buffett looks for enduring moat

moatfreeWarren Buffett: “A truly great business must have an enduring ‘moat’ that protects excellent returns on invested capital.”

Mr Buffett said this in his letter to Berkshire shareholders (February 2008) for Year 2007.

Illustrating on this ‘moat’ concept, Mr Buffett said: “The dynamics of capitalism guarantee that competitors will repeatedly assault any business ‘castle’ that is earning high returns. Therefore a formidable barrier such as a company’s being the low-cost producer (GEICO, Costco) or possessing a powerful world-wide brand (Coca-Cola, Gillette, American Express) is essential for sustained success. Business history is filled with ‘Roman Candles,’ companies whose moats proved illusory and were soon crossed.”

So what industries does Mr Buffet rule out then?

“Our criterion of ‘enduring’ causes us to rule out companies in industries prone to rapid and continuous change. Though capitalism’s ‘creative destruction’ is highly beneficial for society, it precludes investment certainty. A moat that must be continuously rebuilt will eventually be no moat at all.

“Additionally, this criterion eliminates the business whose success depends on having a great manager. Of course, a terrific CEO is a huge asset for any enterprise, and at Berkshire we have an abundance of these managers. Their abilities have created billions of dollars of value that would never have materialized if typical CEOs had been running their businesses.

“But if a business requires a superstar to produce great results, the business itself cannot be deemed great. A medical partnership led by your area’s premier brain surgeon may enjoy outsized and growing earnings, but that tells little about its future. The partnership’s moat will go when the surgeon goes. You can count, though, on the moat of the Mayo Clinic to endure, even though you can’t name its CEO.”

Recommended reading:

(1) The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, Third Edition

(2) Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders, 1965-2013