Tag Archives: Value Investing

My favourite parts of Warren Buffett’s 2011 Letter to Shareholders

Every year since 2008, i’ve been reading Warren Buffett’s letters to shareholders. They are an excellent source of investing and business intellect and usually pretty funny as well.

You can download the 2011 letter to shareholders or visit the letters archive.  Interesting quotes from this year’s letter are below:

Page 4, paragraph 1:

Don’t let that reality spook you. Throughout my lifetime, politicians and pundits have constantly moaned about terrifying problems facing America. Yet our citizens now live an astonishing six times better than when I was born. The prophets of doom have overlooked the all-important factor that is certain: Human potential is far from exhausted, and the American system for unleashing that potential – a system that has worked wonders for over two centuries despite frequent interruptions for recessions and even a Civil War – remains alive and effective.

Page 7, paragraph 3:
This “what-will-they-do-with-the-money” factor must always be evaluated along with the “what-do-we-have-now” calculation in order for us, or anybody, to arrive at a sensible estimate of a company’s intrinsic value. That’s because an outside investor stands by helplessly as management reinvests his share of the company’s earnings. If a CEO can be expected to do this job well, the reinvestment prospects add to the company’s current value; if the CEO’s talents or motives are suspect, today’s value must be discounted. The difference in outcome can be huge. A dollar of then-value in the hands of Sears Roebuck’s or Montgomery Ward’s CEOs in the late 1960s had a far different destiny than did a dollar entrusted to Sam Walton.

Page 7, second last paragraph:

Our second advantage relates to the allocation of the money our businesses earn. After meeting the needs of those businesses, we have very substantial sums left over. Most companies limit themselves to reinvesting funds within the industry in which they have been operating. That often restricts them, however, to a “universe” for capital allocation that is both tiny and quite inferior to what is available in the wider world. Competition for the few opportunities that are available tends to become fierce. The seller has the upper hand, as a girl might if she were the only female at a party attended by many boys. That lopsided situation would be great for the girl, but terrible for the boys.

Page 8, paragraph 2:

In addition to evaluating the attractions of one business against a host of others, we also measure businesses against opportunities available in  marketable securities, a comparison most managements don’t make. Often, businesses are priced ridiculously high against what can likely be earned from investments in stocks or bonds. At such moments, we buy securities and bide our time… We have been able to take money we earn from, say, See’s Candies or Business Wire (two of our best-run businesses, but also two offering limited reinvestment opportunities) and use it as part of the stake we needed to buy BNSF.

Page 9, paragraph 3:

GEICO also jump-started my net worth because, soon after meeting Davy, I made the stock 75% of my $9,800 investment portfolio. (Even so, I felt over-diversified.)

Page 14, paragraph 4:

A housing recovery will probably begin within a year or so. In any event, it is certain to occur at somepoint… At Berkshire, our time horizon is forever.

Page 16, 3rd last paragraph:

Our borrowers get in trouble when they lose their jobs, have health problems, get divorced, etc. The recession has hit them hard. But they want to stay in their homes, and generally they borrowed sensible amounts in relation to their income. In addition, we were keeping the originated mortgages for our own account, which means we were not securitizing or otherwise reselling them. If we were stupid in our lending, we were going to pay the price. That concentrates the mind.

If home buyers throughout the country had behaved like our buyers, America would not have had the crisis that it did. Our approach was simply to get a meaningful down-payment and gear fixed monthly payments to a sensible percentage of income.

Home ownership makes sense for most Americans, particularly at today’s lower prices and bargain interest rates. All things considered, the third best investment I ever made was the purchase of my home, though I would have made far more money had I instead rented and used the purchase money to buy stocks.

But a house can be a nightmare if the buyer’s eyes are bigger than his wallet and if a lender – often protected by a government guarantee – facilitates his fantasy. Our country’s social goal should not be to put families into the house of their dreams, but rather to put them into a house they can afford.

Page 18, paragraph 2:

Even before higher rates come about, furthermore, we could get lucky and find an opportunity to use some of our cash hoard at decent returns. That day can’t come too soon for me: To update Aesop, a girl in a convertible is worth five in the phone book.

Page 18, paragraph 5:

Within ten years, I would expect that $376 million to double. By the end of that period, I wouldn’t be surprised to see our share of Coke’s annual earnings exceed 100% of what we paid for the investment. Time is the friend of the wonderful business.

Page 18 to 19:

It’s easy to identify many investment managers with great recent records. But past results, though important, do not suffice when prospective performance is being judged. How the record has been achieved is crucial, as is the manager’s understanding of – and sensitivity to – risk (which in no way should be measured by beta, the choice of too many academics). In respect to the risk criterion, we were looking for someone with a hard-to-evaluate skill: the ability to anticipate the effects of economic scenarios not previously observed.

The hedge-fund world has witnessed some terrible behavior by general partners who have received huge payouts on the upside and who then, when bad results occurred, have walked away rich, with their limited partners losing back their earlier gains. Sometimes these same general partners thereafter quickly started another fund so that they could immediately participate in future profits without having to overcome their past losses. Investors who put money with such managers should be labeled patsies, not partners.

Page 19, paragraph 3:

Over time, we may add one or two investment managers if we find the right individuals. Should we do that, we will probably have 80% of each manager’s performance compensation be dependent on his or her own portfolio and 20% on that of the other manager(s). We want a compensation system that pays off big for individual success but that also fosters cooperation, not competition.

Page 21, paragraph 1:

We have that flexibility because realized gains or losses on investments go into the net income figure, whereas unrealized gains (and, in most cases, losses) are excluded. For example, imagine that Berkshire had a $10 billion increase in unrealized gains in a given year and concurrently had $1 billion of realized losses. Our net income – which would count only the loss – would be reported as less than our operating income. If we had meanwhile realized gains in the previous year, headlines might proclaim that our earnings were down X% when in reality our business might be much improved. If we really thought net income important, we could regularly feed realized gains into it simply because we have a huge amount of unrealized gains upon which to draw. Rest assured, though, that Charlie and I have never sold a security because of the effect a sale would have on the net income we were soon to report. We both have a deep disgust for “game playing” with numbers, a practice that was rampant throughout corporate America in the 1990s and still persists, though it occurs less frequently and less blatantly than it used to.

Page 21, final paragraph

Part of the appeal of Black-Scholes to auditors and regulators is that it produces a precise number. Charlie and I can’t supply one of those. We believe the true liability of our contracts to be far lower than that calculated by Black-Scholes, but we can’t come up with an exact figure – anymore than we can come up with a precise value for GEICO, BNSF, or for Berkshire Hathaway itself. Our inability to pinpoint a number doesn’t bother us: We would rather be approximately right than precisely wrong.

…(I always love explanations of that kind: The Flat Earth Society probably views a ship’s circling of the globe as an annoying, but inconsequential, anomaly.). You can be highly successful as an investor without having the slightest ability to value an option. What students should be learning is how to value a business. That’s what investing is all about.

Page 24, paragraph 2:

Furthermore, not a dime of cash has left Berkshire for dividends or share repurchases during the past 40 years. Instead, we have retained all of our earnings to strengthen our business, a reinforcement now running about $1 billion per month. Our net worth has thus increased from $48 million to $157 billion during those four decades and our intrinsic value has grown far more. No other American corporation has come close to building up its financial strength in this unrelenting way.

By being so cautious in respect to leverage, we penalize our returns by a minor amount. Having loads of liquidity, though, lets us sleep well. Moreover, during the episodes of financial chaos that occasionally erupt in our economy, we will be equipped both financially and emotionally to play offense while others scramble for survival. That’s what allowed us to invest $15.6 billion in 25 days of panic following the Lehman bankruptcy in 2008.

Michael Burry’s 4 Must Read Investing Books

The Big Short by Michael Lewis featured the stories of the first individuals to bet against the US housing market before the 07/08 financial crisis. Michael Burry was said to be the first to do so.

Not only was Michael (Mike) Burry said to have been one of the first to do so, he was also one of the most dogmatic in his approach.

Michael Burry - Scion Capital - The Big Short
Michael Burry's 4 must read investment books

Originally a doctor, Michael Burry spent countless hours learning to be a stock market investor by writing a stock market blog and investing himself  throughout the late 90’s and early 00’s. By the end of decade, he would be the instigator of billions of dollars of bets against the US housing market.

An intriguing character in the book who also turned an original $100,000 in his Scion Capital hedge fund into hundreds of millions, I spent some time trying to find excerpts from his early blog and forum posts.

One of the excerpts (including the 4 books he recommends to all those new to investing) is below:

Re: books

To get started, I’d suggest the following four books:

If you read these books thoroughly and in that order and never touch another book, you’ll have all you need to know. Another book you might want to consider is Value Investing made easy by Janet Lowe – a quick read. I have a fairly extensive listing of books on my site, with my reviews of them, and links to purchase them at amazon [Michael Burry’s site no longer live].

My problem is I’ve read way too much. One book stated, “If you’re not a voracious reader, you’ll probably never be a great investor.” But sometimes I wish I had a more focused knowledge base so that my investment strategy wouldn’t get all cluttered up.

Re: Security Analysis (Graham and Dodd) you can get a lot of the same info in a more accessible format elsewhere, but everyone says that Buffett’s favorite version is the 1951 edition. Yes there are differences, and the current version has a lot of non-Graham like stuff in it.

Good Investing,Mike

For a full list of his comments and posts, you can visit this Michael Burry profile on Silicon Investor.

Understanding Technical Analysis and Fundamental Analysis in Investing

This article is primarily intended to give an introduction to how technical analysis is used to make investment and stock market trading decisions. It will then compare the position of technical analysts to fundamental analysts in terms of what information and data each group uses in their quest for high returns.

I have sourced most of the information below from a copy of the 2007 CFA Level 1 course notes that I have been reading.

Technical Analysis

Technical analysis involves the examination of past market data, such as stock prices and the volume of
trading, to lead to an estimate of future price trends and subsequently an investment decision.

The assumptions underpinning the technical analysis model are as follows:

  1. The market value of any good or service is determined solely by the interaction of supply and demand.
  2. Supply and demand are governed by numerous factors (examples include people’s moods, guesses and opinions). The market weighs all these factors continuously and automatically.
  3. The prices for individual securities and the overall value of the market tend to move in trends, which persist for appreciable lengths of time. That is, when new information enters the market, it leads to an adjustment of stock prices.
  4. Prevailing trends change in reaction to shifts in the supply and demand relationship. These shifts can be detected at some point in the action of the market itself.

The philosophy behind technical analysis is in sharp contrast to the efficient market hypothesis and fundamental analysis.

Fundamental Analysis Versus Technical Analysis

Fundamental Analysis involves making investment decisions based on the difference between the fundamental value of a company and the current price of that company’s stock.

Fundamental analysis involves an examination of the economy, a particular industry, and financial company data in order to lead to an estimate of value for that company. If this value is then compared to the current stock price, investment decisions can be made assuming that the market will correct and move towards the estimated value at some point in the future.

Although both fundamental and technical analysts agree that the price of a security is determined by the interaction of supply and demand, technical analysts and fundamental analysis have different opinions on the influence of irrational factors. A technical analyst might expect that an irrational influence may persist for some time, whereas other market analysts would expect only a short-run effect with rational beliefs prevailing over the long-run.

A bigger difference exists between the two regarding the speed of adjustments of stock prices to changes in supply and demand. Technical analysts believe that new information comes to the market over a period of time because of different sources of information or because certain investors receive the information or perceive fundamental changes earlier than others. Based on this belief they expect stock prices to move in trends that persist for long periods, and a gradual price adjustment to reflect the gradual flow of the information.

However, fundamental analysts believe that new information comes to the market very quickly and they expect stock prices to change abruptly as a result of this.

How do Technical and Fundamental Analysts make investment decisions?

  • Technical analysts make investment decisions by examining past market data to estimate future price trends. They identify new trends and take appropriate actions to profit from the trends. Technical analysts use market data and non-quantifiable variables like psychological factors and claim that their method is not heavily dependent on company financial accounting statements.
  • Fundamental analysts make investment decisions by examining the economy, the industry and the company to estimate the intrinsic value of the company’s stock. They then compare the intrinsic value to the prevailing market price and take appropriate actions. Fundamental analysts typically use economic data (including accounting data and information released by the company to the market).

Why Technical Analysts believe Technical Analysis is superior

According to technical analysts, it is important to recognise that the fundamental analysts can experience superior returns only if they obtain new information before other investors and process it correctly and quickly. Technical analysts do not beleive that most investors do so consistently.

Secondly, Technical analysts believe that it is too difficult for fundamental analysts to pinpoint a specific time to take investment actions even if they have identified the under-valued or over-valued securities.

Technical analysts need only quickly recognise a movement to a new equilibrium value for whatever reason (they need not know about an event and determine the effect of the event on the value of the firm and its stock). In addition, because they don’t invest until the move to the new equilibrium is under way, they contend that they are more likely to experience ideal timing compared to the method of fundamental analysts.

Finally, technical analysts believe that financial statement analysis is not sufficently accurate to depend on to make investment decisions and therefore consider it advantageous not to depend on such statements.

I will later write an article about the potential fundamental analysts’ responses to these points but more can be read about fundamental analysis and Warren Buffett’s concept of Value Investing in one of my previous articles (includes a video).

Click here for a look at Company Valuation methodologies like multiples and discounted cashflow analysis.