Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Buffett On Space Exploration: Berkshire Shareholder Letter Highlights

From Warren Buffett's 1996 Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa) shareholder letter:

Our portfolio shows little change: We continue to make more money when snoring than when active.

Inactivity strikes us as intelligent behavior. Neither we nor most business managers would dream of feverishly trading highly-profitable subsidiaries because a small move in the Federal Reserve's discount rate was predicted or because some Wall Street pundit had reversed his views on the market. Why, then, should we behave differently with our minority positions in wonderful businesses? The art of investing in public companies successfully is little different from the art of successfully acquiring subsidiaries. In each case you simply want to acquire, at a sensible price, a business with excellent economics and able, honest management. Thereafter, you need only monitor whether these qualities are being preserved.

He then adds...

In studying the investments we have made in both subsidiary companies and common stocks, you will see that we favor businesses and industries unlikely to experience major change. The reason for that is simple: Making either type of purchase, we are searching for operations that we believe are virtually certain to possess enormous competitive strength ten or twenty years from now. A fast-changing industry environment may offer the chance for huge wins, but it precludes the certainty we seek.

I should emphasize that, as citizens, Charlie [Munger] and I welcome change: Fresh ideas, new products, innovative processes and the like cause our country's standard of living to rise, and that's clearly good. As investors, however, our reaction to a fermenting industry is much like our attitude toward space exploration: We applaud the endeavor but prefer to skip the ride.

For Berkshire, it has been mostly about combining inactivity with ownership (partial or full) of easy to understand businesses that intrinsically produce attractive per share returns.

In general, these businesses will often reside in stable industries.

Adam

Long BRKb
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