On Saturday, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B) shareholders and Warren Buffett devotees poured through the Oracle of Omaha’s widely-read annual letter to shareholders in search of the latest pearls of investing wisdom.
In his classic folksy way, the 89-year-old investing legend mused on topics ranging from what to look for in the earnings report, why he’s proud of paying corporate taxes, his bullish views on stocks and America, the future of Berkshire Hathaway after he and his right-hand man Charlie Munger die, why acquisitions are tricky, and the importance of hiring non-conflicted board directors.
Below is a roundup of some of Yahoo Finance’s favorite quotes.
‘American tailwind’ is why Buffett is bullish on stocks:
“What we can say is that if something close to current rates should prevail over the coming decades and if corporate tax rates also remain near the low level businesses now enjoy, it is almost certain that equities will over time perform far better than long-term, fixed-rate debt instruments. That rosy prediction comes with a warning: Anything can happen to stock prices tomorrow. Occasionally, there will be major drops in the market, perhaps of 50% magnitude or even greater. But the combination of The American Tailwind, about which I wrote last year, and the compounding wonders described by Mr. Smith, will make equities the much better long-term choice for the individual who does not use borrowed money and who can control his or her emotions. Others? Beware!”
‘Acquisitions are similar to marriage’:
“In reviewing my uneven record, I’ve concluded that acquisitions are similar to marriage: They start, of course, with a joyful wedding – but then reality tends to diverge from pre-nuptial expectations. Sometimes, wonderfully, the new union delivers bliss beyond either party’s hopes. In other cases, disillusionment is swift. Applying those images to corporate acquisitions, I’d have to say it is usually the buyer who encounters unpleasant surprises. It’s easy to get dreamy-eyed during corporate courtships.”
‘Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut’
“Acquisition proposals remain a particularly vexing problem for board members. The legal orchestration for making deals has been refined and expanded (a word aptly describing attendant costs as well). But I have yet to see a CEO who craves an acquisition bring in an informed and articulate critic to argue against it. And yes, include me among the guilty. Overall, the deck is stacked in favor of the deal that’s coveted by the CEO and his/her obliging staff. It would be an interesting exercise for a company to hire two ‘expert’ acquisition advisors, one pro and one con, to deliver his or her views on a proposed deal to the board – with the winning advisor to receive, say, ten times a token sum paid to the loser. Don’t hold your breath awaiting this reform: The current system, whatever its shortcomings for shareholders, works magnificently for CEOs and the many advisors and other professionals who feast on deals. A venerable caution will forever be true when advice from Wall Street is contemplated: Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut.”
Why CEOs pick ‘cocker spaniel’ board directors and not ‘pit bulls’:
“Is it any wonder that a non-wealthy director (“NWD”) now hopes – or even yearns – to be asked to join a second board, thereby vaulting into the $500,000-600,000 class? To achieve this goal, the NWD will need help. The CEO of a company searching for board members will almost certainly check with the NWD’s current CEO as to whether NWD is a “good” director. “Good,” of course, is a code word. If the NWD has seriously challenged his/her present CEO’s compensation or acquisition dreams, his or her candidacy will silently die. When seeking directors, CEOs don’t look for pit bulls. It’s the cocker spaniel that gets taken home.”
Know your strengths and capitalize on them:
“Nevertheless, many of these good souls are people whom I would never have chosen to handle money or business matters. It simply was not their game. They, in turn, would never have asked me for help in removing a tooth, decorating their home or improving their golf swing. Moreover, if I were ever scheduled to appear on Dancing With the Stars, I would immediately seek refuge in the Witness Protection Program. We are all duds at one thing or another. For most of us, the list is long. The important point to recognize is that if you are Bobby Fischer, you must play only chess for money.”