Learning from Warren Buffet Series – Part 5

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder letter – 1983-85

Key Takeaways from the letters (in no particular order)

Learning 1

Allocation of capital is the key – Allocation of capital is the key factor to judge a business management or a fund manager. It is one of the most crucial factors which decide the fate of the business or fund. We as investors need to keep an eye on the capital allocation decisions of management. We often see management retaining large sums of the business earnings and reinvesting it in lower return of investment projects, unrelated businesses, just so that management can expand their empire or at times we see companies having a high dividend payout ratio when they actually need to deploy capital in their business. Both these circumstances are alarming. Market in general rewards management which has a history of good capital allocation decisions.

This is true for businesses and individuals alike as capital is not free, every decision we as individuals take to save, spend or invest capital matters.

Learning 2

Become a learning machine – To be successful one need to keep learning and updating oneself. To become a learning machine one has to voraciously read, think and aim to become little wiser every day. This concept been beautifully captured in an article on the Buffet formula in the widely read and followed blog “Farnam Street”. I strongly suggest that you read the full article here.

The biggest difficulty in life is not learning new things; it is to unlearn the old. Keynes articulated the problem crisply when he said: “The difficulty lies not in the new ideas but in escaping from the old ones.”

Learning 3

Invest in management who eat their own cooking – Buffet in his 1983 annual letter to shareholders lists down the major business principles which he follows and one of the most important one is that he has an ownership orientation instead of thinking like a manager. He and other directors are all major shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. This is one of the key takeaways for us as investors – look for companies with high Promoter holdings or mutual funds where the fund managers have their own funds invested.

Learning 4

Study your failures rather than your success – Buffet emphasizes that both in life and other aspects of life studying and learning from your mistakes is of great importance. He embodies it by giving a full detailed account of his reason of shutting down the textile business and the loss in earnings caused by the delay in taking this decision.

Learning from our mistakes has one added advantage we tend to not repeat them again in future (hopefully). As Charlie Munger says “All I want to know is where I’m going to die so I’ll never go there.”

Learn more from Warren Buffet through previous parts of our series:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Learning from Warren Buffet Series – Part 4

This time, I have combined the key takeaways from 3 letters. Because, while Warren Buffet writes these letters with a gap of one year, we are trying to bring up these articles every month. So we need to avoid being repetitive. But, most of the knowledge imparted by him is so timeless and relevant, that we are forced to write about them again and again.

Berkshire Hathway Shareholder letter – 1980-82

Key learning from the letters (in no particular order)

Learning 1

Buy right and sit tight – If your purchase price is sensible, some long-term market recognition of the accumulation of retained earnings almost certainly will occur. If you are confident about your investment, you need to wait patiently. Pascal’s observation seems apt: “It has struck me that all men’s misfortunes spring from the single cause that they are unable to stay quietly in one room.” If there is ever a chart which can speak, I believe the below chart of BSE Sensex would just say “shut up and remain invested”.

Sensex journey and growth

Learning 2

Forecasting folly – Forecasts are useless especially in stock markets. Investors need to avoid falling for forecasts at any costs.   “Forecasts”, said Sam Goldwyn, “are dangerous, particularly those about the future.” Read why here.

Learning 3

Invest when there is blood on street – Investors need to be patient and invest when there is fear in the market, because it is during these market corrections that you will get handsome opportunities.

Learning 4

Avoid business in industries producing un-differentiated products – Businesses in industries with both substantial over-capacity and a “commodity” product (undifferentiated in any customer-important way by factors such as performance, appearance, service support, etc.) are prime candidates for profit troubles. Investors need to be wary of businesses in industries where there is no difference in products like sugar, textile, paper etc.

PayPal founder, Peter Thiel in his ground breaking book “Zero to One” says “All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.”, and it is very difficult to escape competition if the product you are producing is undifferentiated.

Learn more from Warren Buffet through previous parts of our series:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


After a long cooling off period, here is our third part of the much liked series from Mr. Kshitiz Jain. This one should be read by everyone as the takeaways are extremely relevant for Indians.

Do participate in sharing the knowledge. Comment / Share / Like.

Berkshire Hathway Shareholder letter – 1979

Learning 1

Buffet explains that for investors to judge a good company the measure that should be focused on is Return on Capital Employed (ROCE). But, investors need to be careful of the factors like leverage, accounting measures etc. which can distort the ratios.

Learning 2

Buffet in his letter brings out two of the most important factors that impact the returns of individual investors i.e. Inflation and Taxation.

 “For the inflation rate, coupled with individual tax rates, will be the ultimate determinant as to whether our internal operating performance produces successful investment results – i.e., a reasonable gain in purchasing power from funds committed – for you as shareholders

Learning 3

In my view, the below lines is what made Buffet so successful as an investor. It clearly brings out Buffet from the shadow of his teacher Benjamin Graham, who is widely known as the “father of value investing”. Quality of company should be the first criteria for an investor, only if this criterion is met, investor should look at prices.

“ Both our operating and investment experience cause us to conclude that “turnarounds” seldom turn, and that the same energies and talent are much better employed in a good business purchased at a fair price than in a poor business purchased at a bargain price.”

Learning 4

Buffet in this letter touches upon another common investment instrument i.e. Bonds. He suggests that investors should avoid investing in long tenor bonds, especially in an inflation-ridden world. According to him, fixed price contracts like bonds are nonexistent in virtually all other areas of commerce. Parties to long-term contracts now either index prices in some manner, or insist on the right to review the situation every year or so. Similarly, fixed rate bonds for long tenors, does not make sense as it is difficult to predict interest rate and inflation scenario for such a long term.

My two cents

Firstly, an important lesson which Buffet talks about is that investors should avoid instruments like fixed deposits (FD) which due to lower returns than inflation end up destroying the purchasing power of the investors. Investors should focus on the real return (Nominal return – inflation) generated by an instrument of company instead of the nominal return generated.

Secondly, taxation is another important factor that impacts an investor’s return. Inflation adjusted post tax return is actually what an investor will earn. For an investor’s money to grow, the post-tax return from an instrument should be more than inflation.

Equity is the only asset class which is known to give real returns over a long period of time. So for investors looking to create wealth over a long term, equity exposure is necessary.


Learning from Warren Buffet Series – Part 2

warren buffet investing

Here is the second in our Warren Buffet Series. (Refer Part 1). This one is quite interesting and relevant.

Do participate in sharing the knowledge. So do Comment / Share / Like.

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder letter – 1978

Learning 1

Buffet warns investors against forecasting folly that prevails in the stock market. He clearly communicates to his shareholders his philosophy of investing for the long term. It helps him to align his shareholders expectation with his thinking.

“We make no attempt to predict how security markets will behave; successfully forecasting short term stock price movements are something we think neither we nor anyone else can do.  In the longer run, however, we feel that many of our major equity holdings are going to be worth considerably more money than we paid, and that investment gains will add significantly to the operating returns of the insurance group.”

Learning 2

Buffet highlights some of the characteristics of certain industries that need to be avoided by investors, by using his investment in Textile as an example. Again clearly admitting his mistakes head on.

  1. Slow capital turnover
  2. Low profit margins on sales
  3. Highly competitive landscape
  4. Capital intensive industry with low differentiation in goods

“The textile industry illustrates in textbook style how  producers of relatively undifferentiated goods in capital intensive businesses must earn inadequate returns except under conditions of tight supply or real shortage.  As long as excess productive capacity exists, prices tend to reflect direct operating costs rather than capital employed.  Such a supply-excess condition appears likely to prevail most of the time in the textile industry, and our expectations are for profits of relatively modest amounts in relation to capital.”

Learning 3

Buffet describes two facets of his highly successful investing style, which he feels is going to reap benefits for him and his shareholders over the years. Buffet and his partner Charlie Munger has been two of the best known proponents of this style of investing. i.e. Concentrated value investing. A concentrated value investor looks for a company where he can see more value than the market price and when he finds such an opportunity, he will invest a significant amount of his portfolio in that company.

My two cents

As investors in equity market or mutual funds, the 3 biggest learning from the letter are:

  1. Ignore the short term noise and focus on the long term. So markets will be volatile but as long term investors, all you need to know is that you are invested in the right funds and have some patience
  2. Avoid stocks or Mutual funds with portfolio of companies having bad quality businesses
  3. Invest only after making sure that there is margin of safety or to put it simply, invest at a price cheaper than its value and when you are convinced about the attractiveness, you need to invest a large percentage of your portfolio. For Mutual funds investors you can look for mutual fund managers playing by this style. Word of caution here, this is just one of the successful investing style and there are various other styles which have been highly successful.

Learning from Warren Buffet Series – Part 1

What is this series about?

We have all heard a lot about the ace investor Warren Buffet. But how many of us have really read through his letters? So here we are, launching a learning series where our expert Mr. Kshitiz Jain summarizes the learning from each of his letters and connects it to what it means for us. So whether you invest in stocks or mutual funds, do takeaway some key learning for investing in general!

Also, participate in sharing the knowledge. So do Comment / Share / Like.

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder letter – 1977

Characteristics of Good Management : Buffet letters gives us a lot of insight on this matter
  1. Buffet prefers to give his shareholders bad news first, followed by good news. There are various evidences throughout the letters. This is a hallmark of good management, while reading annual reports look for these characteristics.
  2. Good Management will readily accepts its mistake and instead of finding excuses looks to either cut losses or keep their shareholders well informed about their mistake and learning from it. Buffet accepts that Textile business has not been working well and explains in detail the reason why they are continuing with the business.
  3. Good management will give clear guidance and instead of being just overly optimistic, good management will manage shareholder expectations honestly.
  4. Managerial Discipline even in the wake of industry wide malpractices.
Investing gyaan: Buffet gives us a unique insight in his style of investing
  1. While investing in stocks evaluate as if you are buying ownership of the company and not just looking to earn short term gains.
  2. Buffet defines the type of business, one should invest in:
    1. One that we can understand,
    2. With favorable long-term prospects,
    3. Operated by honest and competent people
    4. Available at a very attractive price.
  3. Long term investment horizon and ignoring short term volatility  – “Most of our large stock positions are going to be held for many years and the scorecard on our investment decisions will be provided by business results over that period and not by prices on any given day.”
  4. Invest in companies or industries where the industry scenario is favorable, this gives the company scope to make mistakes, learn and move on – “One of the lessons your management has learned – and, unfortunately, sometimes re-learned – is the importance of being in businesses where tailwinds prevail rather than headwinds.”
  5. Stock market gives you opportunities to buy outstanding businesses at discounts which will not be available, if you are looking to acquire entire companies – “Our experience has been that pro-rata portions of truly outstanding businesses sometimes sell in the securities markets at very large discounts from the prices they would command in negotiated transactions involving entire companies. Consequently, bargains in business ownership, which simply are not available directly through corporate acquisition, can be obtained indirectly through stock ownership.  When prices are appropriate, we are willing to take very large positions in selected companies, not with any intention of taking control and not foreseeing sell-out or merger, but with the expectation that excellent business results by corporations will translate over the long term into correspondingly excellent market value and dividend results for owners, minority as well as majority.”
My two cents

Buffet helps us to answer two of the most important question that an investor needs to answer. I have tried to extend these learning further for mutual fund investors.

Where to invest?

Invest in good quality well managed businesses that you understand and are available at attractive prices. This is one of the most important learning that investors should always try to invest in quality business, even if they may not be the flavor of the month. A good quality well managed business that is currently out of favor is the best thing that can happen for an investor. Similarly, good quality mutual funds managed by fund managers with long term track records may under perform for short periods in between but will give higher returns in the long term.

How to identify good management?

Management that is honest, manages shareholders expectations with clear guidance, readily accepts mistakes and disciplined. Similarly, a mutual fund manager who has a disciplined approach to investing and does not waver from his investing style and fund mandate even in tough market situations would be someone to entrust your investments with.

Do you get attracted by market forecasts?

“Bullish on market, see Sensex at 32000 by December 2016″ – Citi Jan 13, 2016

“Citi’s December 2017 Sensex target at 31500, implies 5% upside”- May 05, 2017

We often come across news headlines such as above. The “expert” forecaster’s ever changing goal posts.

Forecasts are everywhere. The financial markets are inundated with forecasts by the so called “experts” either on TV or in print media. This is not an article against any single forecaster. I am just trying to show how wrong the so called experts can go while predicting the financial market’s movement.

We as human beings by nature look for certainty, in an uncertain future. This is the reason, unfortunately as investors we tend to give far greater weight to these “predictions” in print or on TV. As Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital wrote in his memo to clients on the same topic “The opinions of experts concerning the future are accorded great weight . . . but they’re still just opinions.

Many of my friends and relatives come up to me and ask questions like “Is the Sensex going to touch 35000 by Dec 2017?”, Or “Is RIL stock going to cross 2000 this month?” My answer to all such questions is unequivocally “I don’t know”.

I would always advise everyone to not invest on basis of forecasts. Always do your own due diligence before making an investment decision. As per a legend, one of the top bankers in the world, JP Morgan when asked about what stock market will do, replied, “It will fluctuate”. If one of the top bankers in the world doesn’t know, we better avoid falling into that trap.

Having said that, there is a difference in forecasting and making a probability based judgment. Judgment based on proper due diligence is far better than opinion of experts. We as investors should avoid the noise surrounding us. We should try to focus on our own analysis of important and relevant information to do our investments.

I would close this article with an excerpt from the Howard Marks’ Memo titled “Expert Opinion” which is a huge inspiration for this article, and, also because I could not have put it any better.

One of the most powerful things we can do as a human being in our hyper connected, 24/7 media world is say: “I don’t know.” Or more provocatively, “I don’t care.”

Not about everything, of course –just most things. Because most things don’t matter, and most news stories aren’t worth tracking

Frequent changes to your investment portfolio can be detrimental

The list of top performing stocks or mutual funds keeps changing frequently. This is of course obvious as the performance depends on various factors and some of these factors are not completely in control of the company’s management. Even good companies with sound management will face ups and downs. There is one obvious question that comes to every investor’s mind – Do we keep churning our portfolio frequently to exit the underperformer and buy the outperformer? My answer to this is overwhelming ‘No’. I believe churning of your portfolio too frequently will do more harm than good.

Let me try to explain further. During the last 15 years, Nifty (including dividend) has grown at an annual rate of 16.7%, to put it in simple terms, Rs. 100 invested 15 years back has now grown to more than 10 times. But, having said that, equity as an asset class is known to be volatile in short periods (see chart below). So, while investing in equity for short term may be tricky, the odds of making money in the long term are quite high.

Now, let us come back to ‘Power of Compounding’, which we had touched briefly in my last article (Read here). This has to be one of the most important financial lessons of all time. As the great Albert Einstein said “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He, who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it”.

Here, we will see how holding your portfolio for the long term helps power of compounding play its magic in the most unusual way. If you hold your portfolio for long term, the winners in your portfolio will tend to become dominant, and the losers will become insignificant. The positive impact of the winners will significantly outweigh the negative contribution and your portfolio will compound significantly. Not sure, right? I can understand your circumspection.

Let me explain this by taking a simple two stock portfolio. Stock ‘A’ is a winner, gives 25% annual return over a period of 15 years, while Stock ‘B’ is declining by 25% annually. How has your portfolio performed? I would say good, rather great. Your portfolio has given an annual return of 19.4%. This example demonstrates the power of compounding.

This magic can also work for you. You just have to be patient and give your money long enough time to grow.

Planning to fail in your golden years?

Yet again, a discussion with few friends on a Sunday afternoon has brought me here today. We were discussing about our future plans and each one of us wanted to retire early and retire rich. No surprises there. What surprised me is that my friends only have a vague idea, no concrete plans about how they are going to achieve this goal. This is true for most of us. With rising cost of living and increasing life expectancy, the need to plan for one’s golden years is absolutely necessary.

Lack of a concrete plan for retirement may lead to problems just when you are least prepared for it. As one of the founding father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, so succinctly put “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.

Most of us tend to underestimate the retirement corpus. If you need Rs. 50,000 for monthly expenses today, will you need the same after 30 years, when you retire? The answer is no. You will need Rs. 2.2 lakhs every month, assuming just 5% inflation. There it is, now I have your attention. Inflation leads to reduction in purchasing power, by slowly but steadily eating up your money. Learn more about it here.

Let me tell you one more thing. With increasing life expectancy, the non-earning period in an individual’s life is expanding. Someone retiring at age 60 after working for 30 years could live on for another 25 years or more. Assuming your current age of 30 years, current monthly expense of Rs. 50,000, inflation of 5% and retirement age of 60 years, the amount of retirement corpus one needs for 25 years after retirement is Rs 5.3 cr and for 30 years after retirement is Rs. 6.1 crore. These are not small sums by any measure. If you do not start to plan now, there is a high probability to fall short.

Are you now thinking when to start investing for retirement? The answer is as EARLY as possible. If you do that, your money gets more time to grow. Each rupee gained generates further returns. This is called “power of compounding”, and this helps you get rich… and richer over time.

Let us take the above example, say you start investing at age of 30 years and continue to do so for next 30 years. To achieve a corpus of Rs. 5.3 cr at retirement, assuming 12% return on your investment, you will have to invest Rs. 15,391 per month. If you delay the investment by even 5 years, the same monthly installment doubles itself to Rs. 28,630.

Don’t feel overwhelmed by all the numbers shown above, you can take help from your financial advisor for this. The key is to start early, invest regularly and choose the right products for your investments.

Look beyond the obvious

A few days back, I met an old school friend Rajeev on my flight from Mumbai to New Delhi. We started reminiscing about our old school days and the time just flew by. Rajeev has done well in his career and is working as a Management Consultant with a reputed consulting firm.

Somehow, the discussion shifted to financial planning and Rajeev told me, that he is quite happy seeing his investment grow at 8%. This got me interested, so I further enquired and discovered that he has invested his savings in long tenor bank fixed deposits.  I was surprised and explained to him that he is only looking at nominal returns and there is more to returns than what meets the eye.

This got me thinking, do we as investors really know the actual returns of our investment? No, it’s not because we don’t read the numbers, but because we don’t understand how to find the net returns of our investment. Most people only care about the raw returns on their investment and unfortunately this is not the return to actually care about.

The two most important factors which impact our investment are taxation and inflation. While, the impact of taxation is still comparatively easy to understand, as on paper it leads to reduction in earning, the impact of inflation is more insidious.

With regards to taxation, every investor should look at the “after tax” return of his investment, but we will discuss this at some other time. Today let’s try to delve into the impact of inflation on our investment return.

Let’s get back to Rajeev and his investment in bank FD earning 8% return. Is he actually earning 8%? No, he is not. This is his “before tax” and “nominal return”.  For the time being, let’s ignore the impact of taxation and discuss further on “nominal return”.

As investors, we have to factor in the bite of inflation and look at the “real return”. In the above case, if the current inflation is 7%, the real return for the investment this year is only 1%. Why is that? Inflation represents loss in purchasing power. Simply put, 10 years back you can buy much more with 100 rupees in your account, than you can buy today. Inflation can affect the risk/return profile of any asset, including cash.

Investments offering you miniscule or negative real returns will actually lead to loss in purchasing power and are actually making you poorer over time. For example, savings account seems to provide a sense of security and guarantees “nominal return” of 4%; it actually is making you poorer by 3% (considering inflation is 7%). Same is the case with bank fixed deposits; it mostly gives you either negative real return or at maximum gives miniscule real return.

Historically as per the chart above,  investment  in  equities  has  offered  higher  real  returns  compared  to  fixed  deposits.  Hence, it is seen as a good hedge against inflation. Investments done in fixed deposit have barely been able to beat the inflation over the years, while the investments in equity have given handsome returns over long period of times.

If you find it difficult to choose the right companies for investing, you could opt to invest through mutual fund schemes, preferably through the Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) route.