I’m going to comment on three articles written before Warren Buffett’s party. I am not picking on these because they are dumb. I am picking on them because they are brighter than most, but still don’t get Warren Buffett.
No individual investor can copy Buffett in full, unless he buys Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B), which isn’t the worst idea around. These two articles explain why almost no one can copy Warren Buffett:
- How Warren Buffett is Different from Most Investors, Part 1
- How Warren Buffett is Different from Most Investors, Part 2
In general, it is far better to follow the principles that Buffett has espoused — value investing, than to try to mimic Buffett himself. Warren Buffett is so big that he can’t look at the little opportunities that you and I can look at. So take advantage of your small size, and buy some of the illiquid companies that Buffett can’t touch, because they don’t move the needle.
That said, if I were in the shoes of Todd Combs or Ted Weschler, I would create a “small cap bucket” for odd names that you know are cheap, but you only want to get at your level. You don’t want to waste a lot of time on this, but you do want to take advantage of your insights, at least to the level that DFA does.
I think Doug Kass will have better questions than these, but they are simple enough that I can answer them in my imitation of Buffett’s voice:
1) Why the lackluster returns?
Charlie Munger & I have often said our stock was overvalued. We recently initiated a buyback, because we no longer thought so. Since then, performance has been adequate.
But we don’t manage for market returns. We manage the company to compound the net worth. We can’t control the capitalization that outside investor might assign the company, so we focus on what we can control.
2) Why shouldn’t Berkshire break-up?
There are real financing advantages to being part of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B). We have chosen firms that will do well in good times and bad and have conservatively financed them. Further, one of our advantages is that those who sell companies to us know that the culture of the company will be preserved. That gives us an advantage in acquiring firms that most of private equity does not have. It makes us eclectic, but it is a good eclectic.
3) Is the stock market overvalued?
We don’t pay much attention to that, but we won’t overpay for investments, and we are not finding much attractive at present. We just try to grow the net worth of our company.
4) Is Geico moving fast enough?
GEICO has done exceptionally well over the years, underwrites very well, and is one of the lowest cost operators in personal insurance. Speed is not what we are concerned with; we are more concerned about the quality of what we do rather than taking chances, as we believe some of the industry is regarding close monitoring of policyholder behavior. If it truly works, our managers at GEICO will adopt it.
5) Is Berkshire’s business model preventing success?
I empower my managers to make all manner of decisions to enhance the value of the company. This is not a weakness; they help me make money in good times and in bad times. The stock market has had a hard run of late; please revisit what we do after the next correction in the market.
(I hope Doug Kass has better questions than these…)
1) Come on, Warren Buffett, isn’t it Ajit?
This isn’t obvious. We have many excellent managers. Ajit’s underwriting skills are considerable, as well as his general management skills. He would do well to succeed me, but there may be others who are better.
2) About that H.J. Heinz Company (NYSE:HNZ) deal…?
Heinz was an excellent deal for us, and we would do more of them. We have an excellent partner managing the investment, and if it does well, we have a disproportionate amount of the upside in the deal. If it does middlingly, we do well also.
3) How does the economy look to Berkshire?
Really, we don’t care much about the economy in the short-run. We are building a business to exist over the long-term. We are bulls on America; no one has ever won in the long haul being bearish on America.
4) About those new stakes in Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (NYSE:GS) and General Electric Company (NYSE:GE)?
We have expressed our desires to be long-term holders of Goldman Sachs. As for General Electric, we admire the company. Who doesn’t? That said, we will manage our stakes relative to our long-term expectations of their value.
5) Is your Twitter account due diligence?
We only buy companies where there is no competition, and where we think there is value and sustainable competitive advantage. We created a Twitter account for me so that we could communicate with those who follow our company.
I’m sure Buffett would sound better. That said, even though it is the Wall Street Journal’s reporters, there are better questions to ask. Hopefully Doug Kass will ask some of them. That said, Berkshire Hathaway is well thought out. I think a question that would surprise Buffett would be unlikely. And if it did surprise Warren Buffett, Charlie would give an adequate terse answer.
By David Merkel, CFA of Aleph Blog