Warren Buffett – An Owner’s Manual

Image source: Pixabay

Warren Buffett – An Owner’s Manual

Image source: Pixabay

Warren Buffett – An Owner’s Manual

Image source: Pixabay

Warren Buffett – An Owner’s Manual

Image source: Pixabay

Warren Buffett – An Owner’s Manual

Image source: Pixabay

Warren Buffett – An Owner’s Manual

Image source: Pixabay

Warren Buffett – An Owner’s Manual
Image source: Pixabay

One of our favorite investors here at The Acquirer’s Multiple is Warren Buffett.

In June 1996, Berkshire’s Chairman, Warren E. Buffett, issued a booklet entitled “An Owner’s Manual*” to Berkshire’s Class A and Class B shareholders. The purpose of the manual was to explain Berkshire’s broad economic principles of operation. It’s a must read for all investors.

Warren Buffett Berkshire Hathaway

Photo by thetaxhaven

Here is an excerpt from the updated version:

OWNER-RELATED BUSINESS PRINCIPLES

At the time of the Blue Chip merger in 1983, I set down 13 owner-related business principles that I thought would help new shareholders understand our managerial approach. As is appropriate for “principles,” all 13 remain alive and well today, and they are stated here in italics.

  1. Although our form is corporate, our attitude is partnership. Charlie Munger and I think of our shareholders as ownerpartners, and of ourselves as managing partners. (Because of the size of our shareholdings we are also, for better or worse, controlling partners.) We do not view the company itself as the ultimate owner of our business assets but instead view the company as a conduit through which our shareholders own the assets.

Charlie and I hope that you do not think of yourself as merely owning a piece of paper whose price wiggles around daily and that is a candidate for sale when some economic or political event makes you nervous. We hope you instead visualize yourself as a part owner of a business that you expect to stay with indefinitely, much as you might if you owned a farm or apartment house in partnership with members of your family. For our part, we do not view Berkshire shareholders as faceless members of an ever-shifting crowd, but rather as co-venturers who have entrusted their funds to us for what may well turn out to be the remainder of their lives.

The evidence suggests that most Berkshire shareholders have indeed embraced this long-term partnership concept. The annual percentage turnover in Berkshire’s shares is a fraction of that occurring in the stocks of other major American corporations, even when the shares I own are excluded from the calculation.

In effect, our shareholders behave in respect to their Berkshire stock much as Berkshire itself behaves in respect to companies in which it has an investment. As owners of, say, Coca-Cola or American Express shares, we think of Berkshire as being a non-managing partner in two extraordinary businesses, in which we measure our success by the longterm progress of the companies rather than by the month-to-month movements of their stocks. In fact, we would not care in the least if several years went by in which there was no trading, or quotation of prices, in the stocks of those companies.

If we have good long-term expectations, short-term price changes are meaningless for us except to the extent they offer us an opportunity to increase our ownership at an attractive price.

  1. In line with Berkshire’s owner-orientation, most of our directors have a major portion of their net worth invested in the company. We eat our own cooking.

Charlie’s family has the majority of its net worth in Berkshire shares; I have more than 98%. In addition, many of my relatives – my sisters and cousins, for example – keep a huge portion of their net worth in Berkshire stock.

Charlie and I feel totally comfortable with this eggs-in-one-basket situation because Berkshire itself owns a wide variety of truly extraordinary businesses. Indeed, we believe that Berkshire is close to being unique in the quality and diversity of the businesses in which it owns either a controlling interest or a minority interest of significance.

Charlie and I cannot promise you results. But we can guarantee that your financial fortunes will move in lockstep with ours for whatever period of time you elect to be our partner. We have no interest in large salaries or options or other means of gaining an “edge” over you. We want to make money only when our partners do and in exactly the same proportion. Moreover, when I do something dumb, I want you to be able to derive some solace from the fact that my financial suffering is proportional to yours.

  1. Our long-term economic goal (subject to some qualifications mentioned later) is to maximize Berkshire’s average annual rate of gain in intrinsic business value on a per-share basis. We do not measure the economic significance or performance of Berkshire by its size; we measure by per-share progress. We are certain that the rate of per-share progress will diminish in the future – a greatly enlarged capital base will see to that. But we will be disappointed if our rate does not exceed that of the average large American corporation.
  1. Our preference would be to reach our goal by directly owning a diversified group of businesses that generate cash and consistently earn above-average returns on capital. Our second choice is to own parts of similar businesses, attained primarily through purchases of marketable common stocks by our insurance subsidiaries. The price and availability of businesses and the need for insurance capital determine any given year’s capital allocation.

In recent years we have made a number of acquisitions. Though there will be dry years, we expect to make many more in the decades to come, and our hope is that they will be large. If these purchases approach the quality of those we have made in the past, Berkshire will be well served.

The challenge for us is to generate ideas as rapidly as we generate cash. In this respect, a depressed stock market is likely to present us with significant advantages. For one thing, it tends to reduce the prices at which entire companies become available for purchase. Second, a depressed market makes it easier for our insurance companies to buy small pieces of wonderful businesses – including additional pieces of businesses we already own – at attractive prices. And third, some of those same wonderful businesses, such as Coca-Cola, are consistent buyers of their own shares, which means that they, and we, gain from the cheaper prices at which they can buy.

Overall, Berkshire and its long-term shareholders benefit from a sinking stock market much as a regular purchaser of food benefits from declining food prices. So when the market plummets – as it will from time to time – neither panic nor mourn. It’s good news for Berkshire.


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  1. Because of our two-pronged approach to business ownership and because of the limitations of conventional accounting, consolidated reported earnings may reveal relatively little about our true economic performance. Charlie and I, both as owners and managers, virtually ignore such consolidated numbers. However, we will also report to you the earnings of each major business we control, numbers we consider of great importance. These figures, along with other information we will supply about the individual businesses, should generally aid you in making judgments about them.

To state things simply, we try to give you in the annual report the numbers and other information that really matter. Charlie and I pay a great deal of attention to how well our businesses are doing, and we also work

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