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

What we ought to learn from our mothers!

Mother's Day

The last time I went back home, I noticed something I had never noticed so far. My mother who happens to be a quintessential homemaker was scribbling something on what looked like a pocket diary.

I have always been a curious kid. So after she was done, I asked her to explain her earnest efforts. In a very matter of fact tone, she said, “mahine ka hisaab”.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? For all these years when we were growing up as kids, our mothers have done exceedingly well on managing the domestic spends. Sadly, we don’t have any report cards to showcase their innate ability to budget, spend and save – all at the same time.

In my personal experience, most of the households where the women is a homemaker, the concept of “petty cash” is common. These days where both partners are working, having a joint bank account is usual. Back then, the earning husband used to give a lump-sum monthly sum to his wife which he aptly termed as “ghar kharch”. But to the wife who in most cases had no other regular flow of income, that was her bit of monthly salary. And while she had the responsibility of ensuring that the home operations run comfortably, she also had this target number in mind which she wanted to save every month.

That saving would usually be a very small amount (for the husbands knew their maths well!). Also, almost all of it was always stored in cash (and hence was not growing in value) But that little number every month was adding up to her dream corpus. Every month, bit by bit, she got closer to fulfilling her dreams.

That evening as I saw my mother doing her monthly calculations, I walked back in time. In a flash, I re-visualized all of those moments when she victoriously saved more than she intended to. Or those occasions when she spent a small part of those savings to buy me a new dress. Not to mention the recurrent bargaining sessions with the kirana store bhaiya to save a little extra that month.

While we talk a lot about the sacrifices our mothers make for us, I think we completely miss to appreciate this excellent acumen that they inherently possess. And this acumen isn’t really about being a woman. A lot of women of my age are unable to control their urge to spend. They shop just a month before the sale is about to start because they dread the crowded malls during the sale days. They also shop when the sale starts because oh, who doesn’t shop during the sale? And wait, what about the new arrivals just after the sale got over? There you go, the pleasure of saving by not spending is just so middle class!

So this mother’s day, I don’t want to tell my mom how well she has brought me up. Or how I love her for all the sacrifices she has made. This mother’s day, I will try and learn a little more of the art to budget right, spend light and save bright!

A very happy mother’s day maa!

About the author:

Shruti is a financial planning enthusiast and spends substantial amount of her free time in helping out her friends and relatives sorting out their finances. Currently working with Mahindra & Mahindra, we are happy to on-board her as one of our guest writers. She is an MBA from MDI Gurgaon and a CFA (CFA Institute, USA). 

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