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Warren Buffett’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders was released over the weekend. Readers will find plenty of investing lessons among the twenty-three pages. Warren began this letter as he begins each letter, by stating Berkshire’s change in per-share book value:
“Our gain in net worth during 2005 was .6 billion, which increased the per-share book value of both our Class A and Class B stock by 6.4%. Over the last 41 years, (that is, since present management took over) book value has grown from to ,377, a rate of 21.5% compounded annually.”
Some may wonder why Buffett opens by announcing the change in per-share book value rather than the earnings per share number. Over long periods of time, the change in per-share book value should nicely approximate the returns to owners. You may remember that, in my analysis of Energizer Holdings, I applauded the company for reporting comprehensive income within the income statement. Although a company’s net income is often referred to as its bottom line, net income is, in fact, a (sub)component of comprehensive income. Energizer Holdings (ENR) literally reports comprehensive income as its bottom line.
FASB merely requires that “an enterprise shall display total comprehensive income and its components in a financial statement that is displayed with the same prominence as other financial statements that constitute a full set of financial statements”. Unfortunately, despite the lack of attention paid to it by investors, the statement of changes in stockholders’ equity is considered “a financial statement that constitutes a full set of financial statements”.
Therefore, comprehensive income can be reported in a statement many investors either do not review or do not understand. Alternatively, a company may choose to report comprehensive income in a separate Statement of Comprehensive Income. This, of course, baffles many investors, who think they are reading a second copy of the income statement. After all, what is comprehensive income? Isn’t the net income number reported in a (traditional) income statement a comprehensive number?
No. The widely reported earnings per share number is not comprehensive. That isn’t to say the EPS number isn’t important. It is very important. In fact, for certain businesses, it may be the most useful figure for evaluating a going concern. This is especially true if the investor is only looking at the financials for a single year. A single year’s comprehensive income may actually be less representative of a business’ performance than a single year’s EPS number (both can be pretty unrepresentative).Remember, the earnings per share number does not tell you how much wealth was actually created (or destroyed). You need to look to the comprehensive income number to find that information.
Essentially, Buffett is reporting Berkshire’s earnings in that opening line. He is simply using a more comprehensive income figure. He’s saying here’s how much wealth we created, and here’s how much capital it took to create that wealth. When he writes “Our gain in net worth during 2006 was .6 billion, which increased the per-share book value of both our Class A and Class B stock by 6.4%” he’s really saying Berkshire earned .6 billion and a 6.4% return on equity. He prefers using comprehensive income rather than net income, because comprehensive income includes non-operating earnings such as changes in the market value of available for sale securities.
If you still have doubts about the idea that Buffett is essentially reporting Berkshire’s comprehensive income in that formulaic opening line of his annual letters, compare the change in net worth numbers Buffett has reported in past years to the comprehensive income numbers found in Berkshire’s annual reports. For the past three years, Berkshire’s reported “gain in net worth” and Berkshire’s reported “comprehensive income” were .6 billion vs. .5 billion, .3 billion vs. .2 billion, and .6 billion vs. .4 billion. I hope this helps explain why I like it when public companies prominently report comprehensive income instead of presenting net income as if it were the Holy Grail of investing.
Of course, there is no such Grail. Neither net income nor comprehensive income captures the true economic changes to an owner’s share of the business. There is no truly comprehensive income number – and there never will be. A review of the financial statements alone is not sufficient to determine how a business’ competitive position has improved (or deteriorated) over the course of the year.
“Every day, in countless ways, the competitive position of each of our businesses grows either weaker or stronger. If we are delighting customers, eliminating unnecessary costs and improving our products and services, we gain strength. But if we treat customers with indifference or tolerate bloat, our businesses will wither. On a daily basis, the effects of our actions are imperceptible; cumulatively, though, their consequences are enormous.”
It is to these actions and their effects that an investor must look when he is forming his qualitative assessment of a business. After all, a company may lose money and yet improve its competitive position. In fact, that is exactly what a great many young businesses do. The question, of course, is whether those present losses will be more than offset by future gains after accounting for the opportunity costs incurred.
All costs are opportunity costs. It makes no sense to evaluate a year’s losses as if the alternative was to stop time. The available returns on the lost capital must be considered as well. That is why when one of Berkshire’s units has consumed capital, the loss has weighed heavily on Buffett.
Over Berkshire’s history, the cost of any losses also included the over twenty percent compound annual gain that was foregone. Buffett has always been painfully aware of the fact that, for Berkshire, losing ,000 today would be much the same as losing over ,000 ten years from today or over 5,000 twenty-five years from today. Berkshire will no longer grow its per-share book value at over 20% a year. So, these particular figures are outdated. However, if you refer to Buffett’s thoughts at the time when the Buffalo News was losing money (and when Berkshire’s textile operations were losing money), you will see just how heavily these opportunity costs weighed on him.
Still, it is possible that a business operating at a loss is actually improving its competitive position and creating wealth for its owners. One very difficult question that must be answered is exactly what the assets (often the intangible assets) that have been gained at great expense are actually worth. In some very special businesses, huge expenses are fully justified.
“Auto policies in force grew by 12.1% at GEICO, a gain increasing its market share of (the) U.S. private passenger auto business from about 5.6% to about 6.1%. Auto insurance is a big business: Each share-point equates to .6 billion in sales.”
“While our brand strength is not quantifiable, I believe it also grew significantly. When Berkshire acquired control of GEICO in 1996, its annual advertising expenditures were million. Last year we were up to 2 million. And I can’t wait to spend more.”
This excerpt helps explain why I think all the money PetMed Express (PETS) puts into cable TV ads is money well spent. Pet medications, like auto insurance, is a highly fragmented business. Sales volume is important. Obviously, name recognition is as well. PETS can spend a lot on cable advertising and still spend less per sale than its competitors. It’s also important to remember that pet medications are rarely the sort of thing a customer buys once (just like auto insurance). While you won’t be able to retain all your customers, you will have a much easier time getting a current customer to stick with you than you will getting a new customer to switch from a competitor.
I’ll end this post with one of Buffett’s best lessons:
“Long ago, Sir Isaac Newton gave us three laws of motion, which were the work of genius. But Sir Isaac’s talents didn’t extend to investing: He lost a bundle in the South Sea Bubble, explaining later, “I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men.” If he had not been traumatized by this loss, Sir Isaac might well have gone on to discover the Fourth Law of Motion: For investors as a whole, returns decrease as motion increases.”
Three stocks poised to gain from a retail rebound
On Tuesday, I outlined <> the case for a retail recovery. In short, we’ve learned the lessons from the pain of US and European recessions and reacted as though we’ve had one here, but without the human, economic and fiscal costs of skyrocketing unemployment.
Read more on Brisbane Times
Negative Movers: High Yield Out of Favor
The markets are trading solidly to the upside after China reported a strong GDP reading. High yielding Indexes are struggling today as investors appear to be taking on more risk. Other Indexes are suffering because companies have reported lower quarterly earnings or lowered guidance for future quarters.
Read more on Indie Research via Yahoo! Finance
Morning Spy: Social Media Leads, Netflix Increases Prices
The markets have started Wednsday to the upside. Traders may be buying after China released better-than-expected GDP data. The country came in with a reading of 9.6% year over year versus expectations for 9.3%.
Read more on Indie Research via Yahoo! Finance
Gas at .72 average, up 92 cents from ’10
AAA Michigan said Monday gasoline prices are down 16 cents per gallon over the past week to a statewide average of $ 3.72 a gallon. That’s about 92 cents per gallon higher than last year at this time.
Read more on Detroit News
75% of Indians optimistic about future of economy
Nearly 75% of Indians were optimistic about future of economy and 60% wanted to maintain discretionary spending, a survey by management consultancy said.
Read more on The Economic Times
Infiltration attempts across LoC at 20-year low: Army
Denying reports of infiltration across the LoC, the Army claimed the bids were at 20-year low as no militant has been able to sneak into the Kashmir Valley so far this year.
Read more on The Economic Times
Berkshire Hathaway: From Primordial Ooze to an Unimaginable Cosmos — Excerpt from the first chapter of Andy Kilpatrick’s “Of Permanent
Value: The Story of Warren Buffett/2008 Cosmic Edition”
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (PRWEB) March 13, 2008
Out of the primordial ooze of dollars from a struggling textile mill called Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett took some small cash streams and, using the investment wizardry honed during his early years working with limited funds, along with plain old stock-picking virtuosity, literally “spun” money through mergers and acquisitions. These financial maneuvers jump-started unequaled returns on capital, which were multiplied by the magic of compounding, creating today’s Berkshire–an unimaginably large cosmos (hence the theme of the book).
With the roll of the years, today’s Berkshire is a powerhouse generating earnings at a breathtaking pace of $ 2 billion to $ 3 billion per calendar quarter with a stock market value of more than $ 200 billion. This accomplishment, as it turns out, is of great value to more than just Buffett and Berkshire shareholders because Buffett has arranged for the bulk of his shares to “go back to society.” This gift outright is the largest philanthropic donation in history. Ever!
From 1965 to 1985, Buffett’s investments, such as See’s Candies, The Washington Post, GEICO, and Nebraska Furniture Mart, while vastly different, had an overall connection: they were unwaveringly American.
On the other hand, Berkshire’s emergence as a “cosmic” firm began in the 1990s with investments in Coca-Cola and Gillette (now part of Procter & Gamble). Although these are American companies, both conduct a big portion of their business overseas.
Berkshire’s investees, including such bellwethers as Anheuser-Busch, ConocoPhillips, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, UPS, and Wal-Mart, all have global reach. One could argue that Berkshire’s billions of dollars invested in railroads such as Burlington Northern are part of the global supply chain. (Maybe this is part of a plan to ship Berkshire’s huge variety of products throughout the cosmos.) Also, many of Berkshire’s operating firms have assets overseas. For example, Berkshire’s MidAmerican Energy has large utility holdings in the U.K., making it the third largest distributor of electricity there.
In addition, Berkshire, to better compete, has moved some of its operating businesses abroad, including some operations of its Dexter Shoe Companies, Fruit of the Loom, and Russell Corp.
In 1998, Berkshire bought General Re, a giant reinsurance company that conducts business worldwide, particularly in Europe. In 2003, Berkshire took a stake in PetroChina, an East-meets-West energy investment that has mushroomed into a winning investment of cosmic proportions, one that’s now been sold for a profit in the billions.
Foreign investing has been building for years. “We probably bought our first non-U.S. stocks 50 years ago,” Buffett said at Berkshire’s annual meeting in 2007. Recently, stakes in international holdings have surfaced, with investments in Tesco, the U.K. grocery and retailing giant; in Diageo, which sells Guinness beer; and in POSCO, a South Korean steel firm which is the third largest in the world. Also, Berkshire has a handful of British and Japanese stocks which are below the threshold of its disclosure requirements. And Berkshire owns two German stocks. “We’re looking everywhere but Antarctica,” Buffett has said.
Believing the dollar would weaken because of the U.S. current account and trade deficits, Buffett set in motion a series of foreign currency buys earlier this decade. Most of those positions have been sold.
In Berkshire’s 2005 Annual Report, Buffett said that a way to reinforce his bet that the dollar would weaken was “by purchasing equities whose prices are denominated in a variety of foreign currencies and that earn a large part of their profits internationally.” In 2006, hints emerged of more overseas investments and in 2007, hints about a foreign currency investment turned out to represent one in the Brazilian currency, the real.
Berkshire’s breakthrough moment of going global came in 2006 when it bought Iscar Metalworking Companies of Israel, which operates not only in that country but also in more than 60 countries around the world, particularly in fast-developing South Korea. Iscar opened a plant in China in late 2007. The Berkshire-Iscar merger was quickly ruled a “conglomerate merger.”
Israeli authorities found that Berkshire companies already operating in their country were many. Gen Re provides insurance products there; Berkshire Hathaway Group offers annuity policies there; Scott Fetzer Companies sells vacuum cleaners and compressors; NetJets, a fractional jet service, flies there; Shaw provides carpets and flooring; and Berkshire’s CTB International, which makes systems for poultry, hog, and egg production, bought a small Israeli firm called AgroLogic several days after the Berkshire-Iscar announcement. Indeed, all these companies do business in Israel.
As Berkshire develops a worldly face, its shareholder base, too, is taking on an increasingly international look. In addition to representation from all 50 U.S. states, about 600 people from foreign lands were among the 27,000 attendees who made the odyssey to Berkshire’s annual meeting in Omaha in 2007. The two people at stage center were kindly aliens from remote parts of the cosmos.
A final aspect of Berkshire’s cosmic proportions came with Buffett’s announcement in June 2006 that he would be giving most of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now a philanthropic leviathan, which touches lives throughout the world by fighting AIDS and enhancing health in Third World countries. As Buffett follows through with this commitment, he is fulfilling his expressed desire that the bulk of his fortune go not only to American society but also to the world at large. Buffett has orchestrated an international company so strikingly successful that he and other shareholders can make meaningful contributions in areas of great need throughout the world. This announcement was the incandescent, culminating event — of permanent value.
The gift is growing since Berkshire’s stock hit $ 100,000 per share on October 5, 2006 and even momentarily pierced $ 150,000 per share in late 2007, closing the year at $ 141,600. Those figures are instantly understood anywhere in the cosmos.
Buffett giving his enormous fortune to an already existing, up-and-running foundation is classic Buffett–why reinvent the wheel and why self-aggrandize when a needed process that is accomplishing your goal of improving life for many throughout the world is already in place and being so superbly run?
In light of a $ 7 billion groundbreaking arrangement in 2006 to take over the remaining insurance liabilities held by thousands of Lloyd’s of London “Names,” Berkshire truly blossomed into a real live international company, even a cosmic company.
Finally, late on Christmas Day 2007, Berkshire announced it planned to buy 60% of Marmon Holdings for $ 4.5 billion from Chicago’s Pritzker family and that it would buy the rest of the company in stages over the next five or six years.
Marmon Holdings is a privately held company and an international association of more than 125 manufacturing and service businesses with total sales of about $ 7 billion a year. Marmon employs about 21,000 people at more than 250 facilities mainly in North America, the United Kingdom, Europe, and China.
Reminiscent of baseball’s Ernie Banks cry of “Let’s play two,” Berkshire, days after its Marmon announcement, started a bond insurance company–Berkshire Hathaway Assurance Corp. Doubling up on the breaking news for the day, Berkshire, in yet another plot twist, agreed to buy the reinsurance unit of Dutch banking and insurance company ING for $ 440 million.
Berkshire’s bond-insurer, which will write insurance for municipal bonds, is seeking business from local governments at a time of a threat of possible slippage in credit ratings for other insurers during a huge credit crisis. Berkshire’s bond-insurer opened for business in New York on December 31, 2007. Buffett told The Wall Street Journal (December 28, 2007) that Berkshire also will seek to do business in California, Puerto Rico, Texas, Illinois, and Florida. The appeal of doing business with Berkshire would be its Triple-A credit.
Berkshire could be due for a name change to Berkshire Hathaway International, an investment engine focused on the world: that is, focused on the cosmos.
(Berkshire, reluctant to hire many folks at headquarters, now has a Manager of International Tax, Marilyn Weber. Maybe she’ll earn a promotion to Cosmic Tax Manager.)
Barron’s, whose coverage of Berkshire over the years has ranged from spotty (the “Warren, What’s Wrong?” cover story of December 27, 1999 comes to mind) to spot-on, announced in a cover story of September 8, 2007 that its annual survey of the business landscape concluded that Berkshire is “the most respected company in the world.” Beyond that, Berkshire was becoming All-Powerful Oz.
Few yet recognize the possibility of Berkshire’s future growth, growth that is not limited to any one product, any one industry or even to any one country–as this business supernova expands far into the galaxy. Not into a galaxy far, far away, but right here under our noses. Right now.
In keeping with all the above, in late 2007, Buffett traveled to Canada for a fund-raiser and to China and Korea to have a look at Iscar plants. The publicity was worldwide from scores of reporters following the events.
On leaving China, Buffett, better known than any person in the global investment community, waved and told CNBC’s Becky Quick, “I’d say goodbye in Chinese, but then I’d be showing off.”
The full 2 volume set can be purchased through Amazon.com here.
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The Motley Fool – David Kuo – Money Talk from Fool.co.uk
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Chapter Excerpt from Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett / 2008 Cosmic Edition by Andy Kilpatrick – Highlights from the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meetings
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (PRWEB) April 24, 2008
At 8:30 on the morning of each annual meeting, the company movie is shown –a collection of highlights and comedy routines and the latest commercials for company products. The film, updated every year, may open with Buffett strumming a ukulele, singing a welcoming song to the tune of “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.” “When NASDAQ’s down, you’ll never frown. Berkshire’s here to stay,” he sings.
The sitcom once included a cartoon featuring the Oracle of Omaha as Agent 008 battling the terrorist Has Been Rotten. The Oracle prevails by firing exploding Berkshire products.
The premeeting video featured skits of Buffett in various soap opera and Omaha Press Club appearances. One segment has a takeoff of “The Graduate” where Dustin Hoffman is told, “The future is in plastics.” In this video, the word “plastics” was substituted with “GEICO.”
One clip in the 1997 video showed Washington Post’s Katharine Graham complaining that Berkshire-related businesses were so cheap they didn’t offer dental programs until you were 90 and that she was being forced to continue working and had decided on a discount furniture business: “Mrs. G’s.” Her talk was accompanied by an ad: “Mrs. G’s blowout discount on furniture.”
One popular segment over the years has featured Buffett and Gates appearing before Judge Judy to sort out a fuss over a bridge game. When Gates argues his side, Judge Judy tells him to go to “shutup.com” and orders Gates to give Buffett a break so he can amount to something.
Other clips showed joking tributes from Bill Gates and Tom Brokaw, or even highlights of Nebraska’s greatest football plays. In 2007, the skit was a sequence of shots of Buffett and LeBron James making impossible shots on a basketball court with Buffet making a final full court swish to defeat James.
For several years, the low-budget movie was created by Berkshire’s Treasurer Marc Hamburg. Now Buffett’s daughter, Susie, heads the effort. The video is not given out because of possible copyright issues. Susie Buffett has said, “It’s one thing to get permission to use things that are in one item that never gets distributed. It’s one entirely different thing if we start selling copies.”
The movie now includes cameos from celebrities like Tiger Woods (with Buffett as his caddy), Bono during a photo shoot with Bill and Melinda Gates as Persons of the Year for Time magazine, Jimmy Buffett, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The 2006 movie was a great hit; based on “American Idol,” it was called “Omaha Idol,” if you will. The three idol judges were Buffett, Munger, and Mrs. See.
The cartoon portion of the movie was created (for free) by Andy Heyward, CEO of DIC Entertainment of Burbank, California. The cartoons, which open the film, have included “Omaha Idol” and spoofs on Batman and Robin, James Bond, and Survivor.
One skit spoofed Bill Gates’ Windows product, as an actual window.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was made fun of for his new voting machine that allowed votes only for him. At one point, Arnold held up two books; one about him and one about Buffett, saying, “mine is bigger.” Then he turned the book about Buffett sideways for viewers to see it was an earlier version of this book. Arnold then proclaimed, “Yours is thicker.”
Donald Trump and Snoop Dogg were lampooned.
One clip featured Buffett and Munger with Dick Cheney, who was dressed as Elmer Fudd. Buffett said, “Hunting with Dick Cheney? Then you need insurance now!” Cheney then shot Munger in the rear, and Munger said, “Any closer shave would have to be by Gillette!”
A See’s Candy clip featured Ellen DeGeneres getting factory workers to look away while she stuffed candy down her dress.
Another skit involved Buffett suddenly falling in love with hi-tech stocks but having difficulty persuading Munger about the idea. So Buffett called Jamie Lee Curtis, who was lying suggestively in bed, and asked her if she’d call Munger, a fan of hers.
Munger took a call from Curtis asking, “Is this really Jamie Lee Curtis?” She replied, “Is this really Mr. Hunger, I mean Munger?” Munger promised he’d speak to Buffett about the hi-tech stocks.
A skit with Tiger Woods showed Tiger having trouble with a shot and Buffett suggesting to him that he was “putting too much arm into it.” Woods then hit a perfect shot and declared Buffett his new coach.
A “Desperate Housewives” skit featured the actual actresses discussing the sexual prowess of old men. When the movie ended, Buffett and Munger walked on stage to huge applause. Then, like a bolt from the blue, Buffett said, “I’m Warren. He’s Charlie. You may wonder why Charlie gets the girls (Jamie Lee Curtis) in these things. It has to do with what I call the Anna Nicole Smith rule. When choosing between two old, rich guys, pick the older.”
Woodstock was underway.
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The Best Investment Advice I Ever Received: Priceless Wisdom from Warren Buffett, Jim Cramer, Suze Orman, Steve Forbes, and Dozens of Other Top Financial Experts
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