Carol Loomis has an interesting charm bracelet that has a tendency to jingle a lot. It jingles so much because it contains charms of the miniature covers of the Berkshire Hathaway annual reports that she has edited for the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, for over 40 years. In the past week, the 85-year-old Loomis announced that she plans to retire from Fortune magazine, where the native of Missouri has been an editor and reporter for 60 years since joining the staff in 1954. One final job that she will continue to do is edit Buffett’s yearly letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Even though she doesn’t get paid – with the exception of a new charm for her bracelet each year – she has the opportunity to be one of the first to read the highly sought after thoughts about life and business from Warren Buffett, and she even has the opportunity to make suggestions as well. At heart, Carol Loomis is a reporter. She has stayed out of the limelight for the most part and mentions her friendship every time that she writes about Warren Buffett. When Buffett and Loomis went on a tour of the media to promote “Tap Dancing to Work,” her collection of Fortune stories about Buffett in 2012, she let the Oracle of Omaha handle most of the talking during the interviews.
But her close connection to Buffett has brought her media attention throughout the years, and this is especially true when she became just one of three journalists entrusted with the task of asking Munger and Buffett the tough questions during Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders meeting held in Omaha. As an example, Loomis said this year that she detected “very strange, un-Buffett like behavior” when he chose to abstain instead of vote against the Coca-Cola executives’ high dollar pay package. Buffett is a member of the Coca-Cola board of directors. As well, Loomis is one of the directors of the Susan Thompson Buffett foundation – unpaid – which is funded by Warren Buffett and named after his wife that passed on from this world, and has been operating since the 1980s. People have asked Loomis if she’s going to write a biography about Warren Buffett, but she has demurred and said that she wouldn’t make a good biographer since she is such a good friend of his. Fortune says that she will continue to write for the magazine, but not in the capacity as a staff writer. Loomis said in a farewell note to colleagues, “I loved my job from the start and have always considered myself supremely lucky to be here.… I’m going to feel my way in retirement – read a novel or two – how about that for something new? Play more bridge. Play more golf.”
Many different commentators, including Thornton L. Oglove the veteran on Wall Street, feel that it is time for Warren Buffett to break up Berkshire Hathaway.
Not everybody agrees with it this particular stance, especially since the company will do better as a large entity. But that is just some people’s opinion. The truth is that it’s way more interesting to hear Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett talk about the split potential, or lack thereof.
Fortunately for us, during the annual meeting in 2014, Fortune magazine’s Carol Loomis asked Charlie and Warren about potentially breaking up Berkshire Hathaway. Below are some of the notes based on the question from Carol, and you can also read responses from Charlie and Warren.
Carol Loomis: Berkshire owns 79 unrelated businesses – a model which has almost universally not worked well, except that Berkshire. The probabilities do not seem favorable that it will work well for your successors.
Warren: The model has worked well for America. If you look at all these disparate businesses, such as if you looked at the Dow Jones index during its history as a single entity [though it rotated] going from 66 to 11,000… clearly something went right. Owning a group of good business isn’t a bad plan.
Many conglomerates, such as Litton or Gulf and Western, were financial engineering. You were put together to issue stock at 20-times earnings and buy stock at 10-times. The idea was to fool people with this chain-letter approach.
Our approach makes sense: great managers, great businesses, conservatively capitalized. Capitalism is about allocating capital, and we can do that without tax consequences. We can take money from See’s and move it to the place of best return, as the situation says, be it wind farms or whatever. And nobody is better to do that than Berkshire. But, it needs to be done with business-like principles, not stock promotion. You can see what happened with Tyco. If companies are issuing stock continuously, they are probably playing a chain-letter game. Charlie?
Charlie: I think there are a couple of differences between us and people who are generally thought to have failed at the conglomerate model. One is that we have an alternative. When there are no other companies to buy, we have securities to buy. Also, most of them were hell-bent to buy, and we feel no compulsion to buy for the sake of it. I don’t think we’re a standard conglomerate, and we’re likely to continue to do very well.
Many companies have abused and misused the conglomerate model. Investors have the right to look at conglomerates negatively, especially due to previous history. Berkshire Hathaway stands apart from the pack. From a fundamental standpoint, it makes sense. But this assumes that the company will continue to be properly managed.
It’s quite clear that Buffett does a great job managing it well, and he’s created a culture and organization that will allow his successors to eventually manage it correctly. Berkshire Hathaway shareholders will be very happy to know that the company is going to remain intact.
Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders is his refresher course on the billionaire investor’s investing approach.
You can’t read Buffett’s letter until Saturday, but Fortune magazine got their hands on an excerpt which they posted on Monday on the Internet. Buffett’s longtime friend and Fortune writer, Carol Loomis, edits Buffett’s annual letter.
As a way to demonstrate key principles, Buffett uses two personal real estate investments as examples. He says to never try to predict the stock market or what the economy will do, stick to what you know and focus on the outcome of an investment and not the price.
“You don’t need to be an expert in order to achieve satisfactory investment returns. But if you aren’t, you must recognize your limitations and follow a course certain to work reasonably well,” wrote Buffett. “Keep things simple and don’t swing for the fences. When promised quick profits, respond with a quick ‘no’.”
The examples that Buffett used were the purchase of a 400 acre Nebraska farm in 1986 and a retail property purchased near NYU’s campus in 1993. He made both purchases after prices collapsed.
Buffett mentions that he didn’t know much about retailer farm, but he knew enough to understand that the farm near Tekamah would continue to be productive. He also knew that NYU students would still continue to find the retail center appealing. He finally mentioned that the biggest tenant at the New York property had a lease that was underpriced and it would expire nine years after he made the deal.
Buffett mentions that he knew both investments had very little downside even though he had visited the farm only twice and never actually visited the New York retail property.
Throughout the years, Buffett hasn’t looked for any price quotes for the retail property or the farm, and he doesn’t seem interested to sell. The CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway mentions that stock investors should not feel eager to sell since markets offer price quotes at all times.
Buffett made the comparison that the stock market was like having a moody farm investor yell out prices of the value of Buffett’s farm each day.
“If his daily shout out was ridiculously low, and I had some spare cash, I would buy his farm,” said Buffett. “If the number he yelled out was absurdly high, I could either sell to him or just go on farming.”
The writer of “Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett,” named Andy Kilpatrick said that Buffett’s annual letter provides a good summary of the techniques used that turned him into one of the richest men in the world.
“It was a great treatise on value investing,” said Kilpatrick.
Buffett mentions that he learned all about the secrets of investing from Benjamin Graham and his book “The Intelligent Investor.” Buffett also studied under Graham and also worked with him later on in his career.
For those investors who do not have the time or skill to estimate the value of investing, Buffett continues to repeat his standard advice: regularly purchase shares of a low-cost stock index fund.
“So ignore the chatter, keep your costs minimal, and invest in stocks as you would in a farm,” said Buffett.
Warren Buffett leads Berkshire Hathaway, based out of Omaha, Nebraska, and his company owns more than 80 subsidiaries in a number of different industries. He has major investments in Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola and other mega-conglomerates on the stock market.
Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders, which is part of the Berkshire annual report, is one of the best read and most quoted business documents.
Since the “million-dollar bet” first came into existence five years ago against the Wall Street experts, Warren Buffett is currently in the lead.
During the year 2008, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway made a 10 year long bet with Protegé partner Ted Seides. Warren Buffett put his money in a low-cost S&P stock index fund from Vanguard. Seides chose to put his money in five different hedge funds.
The overall bet states this: whichever person has the best return by the end of the year 2017 – and this includes all costs that will potentially be associated with every fund – will be the absolute winner. They are guaranteed a one million-dollar victory. The proceeds of this bet go to either Buffett’s designated charity, which is Girls Inc. of Omaha, or Seides designated charity Absolute Return for Kids.
Carol Loomis recently reported that the fund Warren Buffett shows is currently up 8.69%. The hedge funds chosen by the Protegé partner have only received a 0.13% average increase.
This is vindication for Warren Buffett who has a long-held belief that the supposed “experts” aren’t able to outperform the stock market overall. He bases this premise on his belief that the so-called “helpers” charge fees which they really cannot justify.
Both of the strategies suffered major losses during 2008, which happened to be the first year that they started this challenge. Loomis also noted that it took both parties this long to get into the black.
When you look at arguments that take place on a website that recorded the wager, Protegé believes that hedge funds are looking to “generate positive returns over time regardless of the market environment” and they aren’t just looking to beat the market. Regardless, through a cycle, “top hedge fund managers have surpassed market returns net of all fees, while assuming less risk as well.”
Protegé has a strong belief that there is a major difference between the returns from a top hedge fund as opposed to an average hedge fund, “funds of funds with the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff will earn returns that amply compensate for the extra layer of fees their clients pay.”
As far back as I can remember, the main investment maxim that often promotes performance anxiety and adulation is “invest like Warren Buffett.”
How can regular people emulate such a master investor? The truth is, that most people will never even come close to “the Sage of Omaha.”
He’s done everything that an excellent investors should. He buys when everybody else is afraid, he finds excellent companies when the prices are very low, and then he holds onto them forever.
Since most people lack the mettle and verve of Warren Buffett, so most people will not be able to do this. But that doesn’t mean that average investors are doomed to fail.
The best thing for everyone is that the multibillion dollar CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway has always been generous with the wisdom that he shares.
Recently, there were two books in November that compile and analyze the words of Warren Buffett. We have “Tap Dancing to Work” by Carol Loomis, a longtime writer of Fortune magazine and friend of Warren Buffett. And then there is “Think, Act and Invest like Warren Buffett” by Larry Swedroe, who is the director of research for Buckingham Asset Management.
Which key pieces of advice resonates most?
- Stick with index funds
Even though you probably won’t receive the same returns that Berkshire Hathaway achieves with index funds, you can get very close market returns without having to be a genius investor like Warren Buffett.
“If individuals aren’t going to be an active investor – and very few should try to do that – then they should just stay with index funds. Any low-cost index fund,” Loomis tells us that Warren Buffett advised. “And they should buy it over time. They’re not going to pick the right place and time.”
- Don’t play the Warren Buffett game
Even though Warren Buffett is usually able to time his purchases supremely superbly, the chances are that you won’t be able to do so. As a matter of fact, research tells us that most individual investors as far as success in timing go are dismal.
One of the most important things that Warren Buffett teaches us is to recognize that you aren’t going to be able to predict the market.
If you follow his advice about investing in index funds, and stick with the plan, “the only way an investor can get killed is by high fees or by trying to outsmart the market,” he told us in 2008.
This is really no big secret. When you discover a good stock, you should buy it at a low price and hold onto it. If you are buying individual stocks this way, this is called dollar cost averaging – we have fixed investments every month and you reinvest all the dividends. Most big companies provide reinvestment plans for dividends for this exact purpose.
Larry Swedroe reinforces the advice of Warren Buffett by sharing academic studies that actively managed mutual funds show “no evidence of the ability to persistently generate outperformance by what would be randomly expected.” So, for most investors, a passive strategy will certainly work.
Most investors also take a hit on trading costs and transaction fees.
If you want to own the majority of the stock and bond market the most inexpensively, then do so through two funds: the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index ETF and the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund.
The company only charges you 0.06 PC and 0.22 PC per annum, to manage the funds.
- Think long-term
When you buy stocks, by shares of companies that will produce profits for many years to come, not short-term bets.
Warren Buffett typically buys into companies that have been around for a really long time, like Coca-Cola and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. They obviously aren’t going anywhere, so you know they’ll be producing income for many years.
Warren Buffett likes to buy businesses where he trusts and likes the management, they are capable of generating cash, they earned good profits and provide many dividends for decades into the future.
- Keep your cool and be a contrarian
Stock market booms and busts do not even phase Warren Buffett at all, and he’ll hold onto all of his cash while other people are buying, and then he’ll begin buying things in droves when stock markets and other markets crash.
He doesn’t pay attention to the media or other people’s opinions – he doesn’t let emotions derail his investments or his line of thinking. He’s great at seizing opportunities when other investors are paralyzed by fear.
Goldman Sachs called upon Warren Buffett take a stake in their company during the financial meltdown during 2008. He received incredible terms on his $5 billion investment in the company. A 10 PC annual dividend and repayment that eventually made him $1.7 billion when Goldman Sachs paid it off earlier last year.
Do you know anybody that can receive a legitimate 10 PC dividend these days?
Contrary to popular belief, Warren Buffett isn’t going to let one troubled newspaper diminish his view of buying what many experts in the media consider the fossils of the news business. Buffett actually plans to buy more newspapers, even though he recently told us that he’s going to shut down one of the newspapers that he bought by the end of this year.
“I hope we have a lot more,” said Warren Buffett when discussing his newspaper portfolio at a party attended Monday night with his longtime friend Carol Loomis, who is a writer for Fortune and recently published “Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966 – 2012.”
Warren Buffett went on a spending spree and bought newspapers this year, where he picked up roughly 60 from conglomerate Media General, and also picked up a small stake in the newspaper company Lee Enterprises, which is a chain of small daily newspapers based out of Iowa. During this time, he stressed to investors and the world that small news papers are going to have a major impact, and will be a solid investment for many decades still.
“I think newspapers in print form, in most of the cities and towns where they are present will be here in 10 and 20 years,” said Warren Buffett. “I think newspapers do a good job of serving a community where there is a lot of community interest.”
Also during this month, Doug Hiemstra, who is president of World Media Enterprises, a Berkshire Hathaway company, sent his staff a letter, letting his staff know that they would be shutting down The News and Messenger in Manassas, Virginia, by the end of the year.
He also wrote in his letter on November 14 that “The News and Messenger has lost money for a number of years under the Media General ownership, and after our team made an exhaustive review of The News and Messenger, we were unable to come up with a scenario that would result in a likelihood of profitable operations there.”
The company also announced that it would be cutting 105 jobs, mainly at The News and Messenger.
According to public filings, Berkshire Hathaway has also pared back its stake in Lee Enterprises.
Warren Buffett mentioned on Monday night during the reception that the Media General cuts were focused on that one troubled newspaper. He also mentioned that he plans to share more of his thoughts about the newspaper industry soon, and he’s working on a portion of his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders where he will discuss his take on the newspaper industry.
Warren Buffett, billionaire investor, mentioned this past Wednesday that he’s really confident in Congress’s ability to eventually pass a plan that will address the upcoming fiscal cliff, even if that plan doesn’t come to fruition until earlier next year.
Warren Buffett also mentioned that the current debate over the upcoming automatic tax increases and cuts in spending that will take effect on January 1 aren’t going to affect his investment decisions at all.
“The fiscal cliff has nothing to do with long-term investment decisions,” said Buffett during his interview on CNBC.
Buffett believes that Congress will eventually put together a plan that makes perfect sense, whether it happens prior to the spending cuts and tax increases or not.
“I think there will be a lot of pressure if they don’t get an agreement by December 31,” said Buffett.
Buffett made an appearance this past Wednesday on CNBC with Carol Loomis. This appearance was to discuss her new book highlighting his career called “Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practicing Everything, 1966-2012.” The duo made a few different guest appearances together this week promoting the upcoming launch of the new book.
Buffett was also in the headlines earlier this week when he repeated his call for higher taxes, which was published in an opinion article in The New York Times. During his CNBC interview this past Wednesday, he mentioned that President Obama liked his article when he spoke with him on the phone this past Saturday. The two men didn’t talk about their difference in opinion over whose taxes should be increased.
Buffett reiterated that he is fully supporting Obama’s proposal to put an end to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. He also says that he’d like to set the tax increase at $500,000 income instead of the $250,000 income suggested by President Obama. He also mentioned that Congress should place a minimum tax of 30% on any income between the amounts of $1 million and $10 million, and if the income is higher than that, then a 35% rate should be implemented.
Buffett also made mention that Congress needs to consider raising corporate taxes as well. He mentioned that 30 or 40 years ago, American businesses paid taxes that roughly equaled 4% of the nations GDP. If you compare that to last year’s corporate taxes, it only represents about 1.5% of US gross domestic product.
“Corporate taxes have not been a problem for corporate America,” said Buffett.
Buffett also spoke about the structure of his own company, since they are a worldwide conglomerate… where he rejects the idea that it is set up to reduce the amount of taxes paid by Berkshire Hathaway. He tells us that Berkshire Hathaway, and all of the subsidiaries of his company, pay the regular rate of taxes on all of their profits.
Berkshire Hathaway owns over 80 companies. Some of the companies are railroads, jewelry, manufacturing, apparel, restaurant, utility and furniture companies. All in all, the utility and insurance businesses typically make up more than 50% of the overall income that Berkshire Hathaway produces.