The letters of Warren Buffett… What are they?
Well, if this is the first time that you heard of these letters, you are likely new to investing or Warren Buffett. Let’s start by giving you the background of this super investor, his letters and its significance to the investment community around the world today.
Who is Warren Buffett?
Warren Buffett is the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, a US-listed holding company that owns substantial interests in some of the world’s most profitable and valuable companies. They include Apple, Coca-Cola, American Express, Wells Fargo, US Bancorp, and so on.
The 91-year-old Buffett has accumulated a total of US$125 billion in net worth, hence, placing him as the fifth richest man and a living investment legend on planet earth today.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Buffett is also known as the Oracle of Omaha because the investment community closely follows his investment picks and comments on the market.
Buffett writes to his fellow shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc to report on the latest happenings and future direction undertakings of the company, and more importantly to the rest of the world, imparting his gems of wisdom and as well as decades of experiences in the field of investing.
Tens of million investors around the world have read and studied his letters in search of insights to what or how they can do better when it comes to managing their investments.
My Advice to New Investors
Read it. Study it. It is worth it. You will emerge as a better stock investor from it. Here, in this article, we’ll share five lessons from reading the letters written by Warren Buffett.
1. Investments Into Productive Assets
Warren Buffett invests for steady and rising cash flows for the long-term. In his letter in 2011, he views a stock or a business as a ‘commercial cow’ which could produce ‘milk’, referring to recurring profits and cash flows for years or decades to come in the future.
Also, in his letter in 2013, Buffett wrote that if your focus is on ‘prospective price change’ when buying stocks, you are speculating and he is sceptical of anyone who claimed to have sustainable success in doing so in the stock market.
So, put it into perspective:
An investor is one who will be looking at a stock’s long-term income-generating ability before investing for he wants to receive recurring profit or to have its shareholdings revalued higher as a result of sustainable growth in earnings in the future.
A speculator tries his luck buying into stocks in the hope that its prices might somehow jump in the future, which is not wise based on the writings of Buffett. After 78 long years of investing, he has not seen anyone able to speculate his way to sustainable profits in the stock market. Thus, the question is: ‘Why would you?’
2. Be Prepared For The Thousand-Year Flood
Jokingly, Warren Buffett remarked in his letter in 2014 that he would be the guy who sells life jackets if the thousand-year flood occurs in the future. What does it mean to get ready for the thousand-year flood?
The answer lies in the ‘financial staying power’ of an investor. This is evident for Buffett for he has maintained a sizeable cash balance of US$ 75+ bil within Berkshire Hathaway Inc in Q3 2019. While he stated that cash itself is a poor investment, he is holding onto them for emergency funds or to stand by for significantly discounted investments in the future. In other words, Buffett believes not in being cash-strapped and is one who builds a sizeable buffer at all times.
3. The Use Of Debt Or Borrowings
In his letter in 2010, Buffett likens debt as being a double-edged sword. It can either make people rich or poor. He is known to favour an investment into stocks where their businesses earn a good return on equity (ROE) without or with little use of debt.
But, having said that, Berkshire had made investments into companies which were funded by long-term debt such as Burlington Northern Santa Fe and MidAmerican. Nevertheless, Buffett is comfortable with them as the obligation from both corporations is serviced by cash flows from operations which are stable and recurring.
4. Reduce Investment Fees At All Cost
In his letter in 2017, Warren Buffett wrote a profound statement: ‘Performance comes, Performance Goes. Fees never falter.’ This comes after Buffett emerged as the winner of a 10-Year Bet against Protege, a US-based investment advisory firm where Buffett has publicly challenged any investment firm to create a fund or funds to beat a ‘virtually’ cost-free unmanaged S&P 500 index fund.
Protege, the firm who took up Buffett’s challenge, had failed to create funds to overcome the returns of S&P 500 index fund despite having assembled a team of investment experts to manage these funds professionally over the last 10 years.
The conclusion of this bet is pretty simple. It is to educate the public, and especially those who had invested in mutual funds or hedge funds, to rethink about their investments. First, he wishes to point out about the recurring ‘fees’ involved in these investments, for they are not cheap. Second, he wants us to consider the worth of fees paid to fund managers.
This is because fund managers are compensated regardless of the fund’s investment performance over the long-term. Hence, the message is clear, and it is to avoid investing in funds that charge high fees for they would erode your investment returns in the future.
5. Continuous Learning Is Important To Investors
Warren Buffett is an avid reader, an active learner and one who appreciates the power of mentorship. It is evident, as Warren Buffett revealed that he had read two books that had effectively shaped his investment life.
The first is titled ‘The Intelligent Investor’ by his mentor, Benjamin Graham, while the second is titled ‘Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits’ written by Philip A. Fisher. To date, he remains committed to applying what he’d learnt from these books into investing in the stock market and now, Buffett believes that he should pass along this same investment wisdom to the next generation, which is us.
What Should I Invest In 2022 And Beyond?
The answer is: ‘Investment Education’. Instead of finding out what stocks to buy or speculate in 2022, why not take time to learn to become a better investor? It would be the most profitable thing to do if you are new to investing, be it stocks or properties.
By the way, you can download Buffett’s letters from Berkshire’s website, for free. Begin your progression towards becoming a better investor.
About the Author
This article is co-written by KC Lau and Ian Tai.
Ian Tai is a Dividend Investor. Financial Content Machine. Producer of 200+ Articles, Weekly Host and Presenter at KCLau.com. Co-Founded DividendVault.com, an online educational membership site that empowers retail investors to build a stock portfolio that pays rising dividends in Malaysia and Singapore.
KCLau is a financial educator, having published seven books including the current bestseller Money Smart, and co-created a dozen online financial courses. He gives away his popular Money Tips e-book volumes free at his website: https://KCLau.com