Warren Buffett’s 2013 annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders is out.
Here’s a quick rundown of what everyone will be talking about:
- “During the next decade, you will read a lot of news bad news about public pension plans.”
- Berkshire’s book value grew by a respectable 18.2% in 2013. Unfortunately, it was one of the rare years Berkshire’s book value didn’t grow faster than the S&P 500.
- “Over the last 49 years (that is, since present management took over), book value has grown from $19 to $134,973, a rate of 19.7% compounded annually,” said Buffett.
- “Our many dozens of smaller non-insurance businesses earned $4.7 billion pre-tax last year, up from $3.9 billion in 2012. Here, too, we expect further gains in 2014.”
- “…0ur many subsidiaries are regularly making bolt-on acquisitions. Last year, we contracted for 25 of these, scheduled to cost $3.1 billion in aggregate. These transactions ranged from $1.9 million to $1.1 billion in size.”
- “Our subsidiaries spent a record $11 billion on plant and equipment during 2013, roughly twice our depreciation charge. About 89% of that money was spent in the United States. Though we invest abroad as well, the mother lode of opportunity resides in America.”
- Buffett’s hand-picked equity managers Todd Combs and Ted Weschler beat the S&P 500 in 2013. “Each now runs a portfolio exceeding $7 billion. Theyve earned it,” said Buffett. “I must again confess that their investments outperformed mine.”
- “Berkshires yearend employment counting Heinz totaled a record 330,745, up 42,283 from last year. The increase, I must admit, included one person at our Omaha home office.”
- “…we will always maintain supreme financial strength, operating with at least $20 billion of cash equivalents and never incurring material amounts of short-term obligations.”
- Berkshire reported Q4 operating earnings of $2,297 per share. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg were looking for $2,204 per share.
Earlier this week, Buffett gave Fortune Magazine an exclusive excerpt from the letter. In it, he discusses two past property investment he had made. The first was a 400-acre farm in Nebraska, which he paid $280,000 for in 1986. The second was retail property near New York University in 1993.
Both investment were made after prices collapsed.
“Income from both the farm and the NYU real estate will probably increase in decades to come,” he said. “Though the gains won’t be dramatic, the two investments will be solid and satisfactory holdings for my lifetime and, subsequently, for my children and grandchildren.”
Buffett bulleted five fundamentals of investing, which we paraphrase:
- “You don’t need to be an expert in order to achieve satisfactory investment returns.” But Buffett also warns that the investor should recognize her limitations and “keep things simple.
- “Focus on the future productivity of the asset you are considering.” Buffett notes that no one can perfectly forecast the future profitability of an investment. “[O]mniscience isn’t necessary; you only need to understand the actions you undertake.”
- “If you instead focus on the prospective price change of a contemplated purchase, you are speculating.” Buffett has nothing against price speculation. But he emphasizes that it’s important to be able to know the difference between investing for the productivity of the asset versus investing on hopes that the price of the asset changes.
- “With my two small investments, I thought only of what the properties would produce and cared not at all about their daily valuations. Games are won by players who focus on the playing field — not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard. If you can enjoy Saturdays and Sundays without looking at stock prices, give it a try on weekdays.” In other words, focus on the long-run.
- “Forming macro opinions or listening to the macro or market predictions of others is a waste of time. Indeed, it is dangerous because it may blur your vision of the facts that are truly important.” So mute CNBC, Bloomberg TV, and Fox Business. Unless Warren Buffett comes on.
Buffett opened this excerpt with this quote from his mentor Columbia University finance professor Ben Graham: “Investment is most intelligent when it is most businesslike.”