Highlights from Warren Buffett’s 2018 letter

Another good one drops from Warren Buffett and the Berkshire Hathaway team.

In America, equity investors have the wind at their back.

We’ve learned a great deal here at Helytimes from studying Buffett’s writings.  Here’s a writeup on the 2017 letter and on the 2016 letter and from a book of quotes from his letter.

A highlight from this year, worth noting:

The $65 billion gain is nonetheless real – rest assured of that. But only $36 billion came from Berkshire’s operations. The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the U.S. Tax Code.

Did not know about the stake in Pilot Flying J:

How did Warren Buffett get so rich?  Some answers he will tell you.

  • By gathering money, eventually including the enormous pools of money (“float”) collected by insurance companies like GEICO
  • Using the money to buy shares of businesses with a durable competitive advantage (here’s a critical take on what that can mean)
  • Never selling anything so that he’s never taxed on the gains and the results compound and compound.

For the last 53 years, the company has built value by reinvesting its earnings and letting compound interest work its magic.

(Also he just seems to have an intuitive and unusually focused mind for business:

As a teenager, he took odd jobs, from washing cars to delivering newspapers, using his savings to purchase several pinball machines that he placed in local businesses.

Also he did some arbitrage things I don’t understand.)

In this letter, he discusses the result of a bet he made that an unmanaged index fund would beat selected hedge funds over a ten year period:

I made the bet for two reasons: (1) to leverage my outlay of $318,250 into a disproportionately larger sum that – if things turned out as I expected – would be distributed in early 2018 to Girls Inc. of Omaha; and (2) to publicize my conviction that my pick – a virtually cost-free investment in an unmanaged S&P 500 index fund – would, over time, deliver better results than those achieved by most investment professionals, however well-regarded and incentivized those “helpers” may be.

Addressing this question is of enormous importance. American investors pay staggering sums annually to advisors, often incurring several layers of consequential costs. In the aggregate, do these investors get their money’s worth? Indeed, again in the aggregate, do investors get anything for their outlays?

More:

A final lesson from our bet: Stick with big, “easy” decisions and eschew activity. During the ten-year bet, the 200-plus hedge-fund managers that were involved almost certainly made tens of thousands of buy and sell decisions. Most of those managers undoubtedly thought hard about their decisions, each of which they believed would prove advantageous. In the process of investing, they studied 10-Ks, interviewed managements, read trade journals and conferred with Wall Street analysts. 13 Protégé and I, meanwhile, leaning neither on research, insights nor brilliance, made only one investment decision during the ten years. We simply decided to sell our bond investment at a price of more than 100 times earnings (95.7 sale price/.88 yield), those being “earnings” that could not increase during the ensuing five years. We made the sale in order to move our money into a single security – Berkshire – that, in turn, owned a diversified group of solid businesses. Fueled by retained earnings, Berkshire’s growth in value was unlikely to be less than 8% annually, even if we were to experience a so-so economy.

Fewer good jokes this year, in our opinion, but also fewer dire warnings.



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