The time period of 1969-1975 was one of the most treacherous ever experienced by value investors. The year 1969 is commonly recorded in histories of investments as the end of the “go-go” era. It was also the year that marked the commencement of a period of high inflation and higher interest rates. In that year, the Federal Funds rate reached the then unprecedented level of 8.21% as an average for the year. The monthly figures are yet more gruesome as depicted in Table 1.
The S&P 500 generated a loss of 8.4% during the year 1969. Interest rates retreated between 1970 and 1972 and the S&P 500 managed to generate a reasonable rate of return during that time period. Of course, the 1973-1974 time period produced a loss of 37%, followed by a gain of similar magnitude in 1975 as interest rates retreated during the period following the 1973-1974 oil shocks.
Berkshire Hathaway managed to produce gains in book values throughout the period. The relative results are reflected in Table 2.
Source: Berkshire Hathaway Annual Report
Those results are a triumph for the basic principles of value investing, but the investment community of the era was not much impressed. Relative to the S&P 500, the Berkshire Hathaway share price reflects investor sentiment, as can be seen in Table 3.
At year end 1972, Berkshire Hathaway shares traded for an approximate 11.3% premiumto- book value. At year end 1975, Berkshire Hathaway traded for an unbelievable 60% discount-to-book value.
There have been many books written that explore the question of how Berkshire Hathaway achieved its remarkable record of growth in value, but there are none that explore the question of why the investment community failed to recognize that record for many years. In fact, Berkshire Hathaway stock could have been purchased for a discount-to-book value of 39% as late as year-end 1978. The year-end premiums and discounts to book value are recorded in Table 4.