Monday, March 26, 2018

Buffett on Equity "Coupons"

What Warren Buffett had to say about bonds and stocks in an interview on CNBC late last month:

"...if you buy a 30-year government bond, it has a whole bunch of coupons attached...And the coupon says 3%, or whatever it may say. And you know that's what you're going to get between now and 30 years from now. And then they're going to give you the money back. What is a stock? A stock is the same sort of thing. It has a bunch of coupons. It's just they haven't printed the numbers on them yet. And it's your job as an investor to print those numbers on it. If those numbers say 10% and most American businesses earn over 10% on tangible equity. If they say 10%, that bond is worth a hell of a lot more money than a bond that says 3% on it. But if that government bond goes to 10%, it changes the value of this equity bond that, in effect, you're buying...when you buy an interest in...anything, you are buying something that, over time, is going to return cash to you...And those are the coupons. And it's...your job as an investor to decide what you think those coupons will be because that's what you're buying. And you're buying the discounted value. And the higher the yardstick goes, and the yardstick is government bonds, the less attractive these...look. That's just fundamental economics. So in 1982 or '83, when the long government bond got to 15%, a company that was earning 15% on equity was worth no more than book value under those circumstances because you could buy a 30-year strip of bonds and guarantee yourself for 15% a year. And a business that earned 12%, it was a sub-par business then. But a business that earns 12% when the government bond is 3% is one hell of a business now. And that's why they sell for very fancy prices."

An emphasis on stock prices -- how they'll change over short or even more extended time horizons -- is best thought of as speculation (if not pure gambling). There's nothing inherently wrong with speculation, of course, it just has less in common with investing than some seem to think.

If, instead, the emphasis is on what the "coupons" will look like long-term it's possible, if not easy, for a present valuation, within a narrow enough range, to be estimated. From there prevailing market prices can be compared to estimated value. Sensible investment decisions can then be made.
(Based upon, best case, inescapably imperfect but meaningful assumptions.)

Two or more informed investors will rarely agree, at least not in a precise way, on the intrinsic value of an investment. It's not about being right; it's about being right enough within an acceptable range.

Judging what the equity "coupons" are likely to be over a long time frame is challenging enough. Predicting interest rates is, if not impossible, nearly so. The discount paid to a conservative estimate of value can, only up to a point, protect the investor from errors, unknowns, and the unknowable.

Margin of safety always comes into play; deciding what it should be is necessarily investment specific.

Stretch assumptions and investing well just aren't compatible.

Adam

This site does not provide investing recommendations as that comes down to individual circumstances. Instead, it is for generalized informational, educational, and entertainment purposes. Visitors should always do their own research and consult, as needed, with a financial adviser that's familiar with the individual circumstances before making any investment decisions. Bottom line: The opinions found here should never be considered specific individualized investment advice and never a recommendation to buy or sell anything.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Berkshire Hathaway 4th Quarter 2017 13F-HR

The Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa4th Quarter 13F-HR was released yesterday. Below is a summary of the changes that were made to the Berkshire equity portfolio during that quarter.
(For a convenient comparison, here's a post from last quarter that summarizes Berkshire's 3rd Quarter 13F-HR.)

There was both some buying and selling during the quarter. Here's a quick summary of the changes:*

Added to Existing Positions**
Apple (AAPL): 31.2 mil. shares bought (23% incr.); stake = $ 28.0 bil.
US Bancorp (USB): 2.0 mil. shares (2% incr.); stake = $ 4.7 bil.
Bank of New York Mellon (BK): 10.6 mil. shares (21% incr.); stake = $ 3.3 bil.
Monsanto (MON): 2.8 mil. shares (31% incr.); stake = $ 1.4 bil.

New Position
Teva (TEVA): 18.9 mil. shares; stake = $ 357.7 mil.

Reduced Positions
Wells Fargo (WFC): 6.0 mil. shares sold (1% decr.); stake = $ 27.8 bil.
American Airlines (AAL): 1.0 mil. shares (2% decr.); stake = $ 2.4 bil.
General Motors (GM): 10.0 mil. shares (16% decr.); stake = $ 2.0 bil.
IBM (IBM): 35.0 mil. shares (94% decr.); stake = $ 314.2 mil.
Sanofi (SNY): 27.4 thous. shares (<1% decr.); stake = $ 166.8 mil.

Berkshire had previously announced they may need to sell some of their Wells Fargo shares from time to time to keep the ownership stake below 10%.

Berkshire's latest 13F-HR filing did not indicate any activity was kept confidential.

Occasionally, the SEC allows Berkshire to keep certain moves in the portfolio confidential. The permission is granted by the SEC when a case can be made that the disclosure may cause buyers to drive up the price before Berkshire makes its additional purchases.

Also, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler are responsible for part of the Berkshire equity portfolio. So some of the changes -- especially those involving smaller positions -- will generally be the work of the two portfolio managers.

Top Five Holdings
After the changes, Berkshire's portfolio of equity securities remains mostly made up of financial, consumer, and technology stocks (primarily Apple).

1. Apple (AAPL) = $ 28.0 bil.
2. Wells Fargo (WFC) = $ 27.8 bil.
3. Kraft Heinz (KHC) = $ 25.3 bil.
4. Bank of America (BAC) = $ 20.0 bil.
5. Coca-Cola (KO) = $ 18.4 bil.

As is almost always the case it's a very concentrated portfolio. The top five often represent 60-70 percent and, at times, even more of the equity portfolio. In addition, Berkshire also owns equity securities listed on exchanges outside the U.S., plus fixed maturity securities, cash and cash equivalents, and other investments.

The portfolio excludes all the operating businesses that Berkshire owns outright with ~ 367,000 employees (25 at headquarters) according to the latest available annual report.

Here are some examples of Berkshire's non-insurance businesses:

MidAmerican Energy, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, McLane Company, The Marmon Group, Shaw Industries, Benjamin Moore, Johns Manville, Acme Building, MiTek, Fruit of the Loom, Russell Athletic Apparel, NetJets, Nebraska Furniture Mart, See's Candies, Dairy Queen, The Pampered Chef, Business Wire, Iscar, Lubrizol, Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, Oriental Trading Company, Precision Castparts, and Duracell.
(Among others.)

In addition to the above businesses and investment portfolio, Berkshire's large insurance operation (BH Reinsurance, General Re, GEICO etc.) has historically been rather profitable while providing plenty of "float" for their investments.

See page 116 of the annual report for a more complete listing of Berkshire's businesses.

Adam

Long positions in BRKb, AAPL, USB, WFC, BAC, and KO established at much lower than recent market prices. Also, long position in IBM established near recent market prices. (In each case compared to average cost basis.)

* All values shown are based upon the last trading day of the 4th quarter.
** Berkshire Hathaway's holdings of ADRs are included in the 13F. What is not included are shares listed on exchanges outside the United States. The status of those shares, if a large enough position, are updated in the annual letter. So the only way any of the stocks listed on exchanges outside the U.S. will show up in the 13F is if Berkshire buys the ADR. Also, certain equity holdings are reported separately -- in some cases contributing to a mismatch between what's reported in the annual letter and the end of year 13F -- while investments in things like preferred shares and warrants, when applicable, are not included.
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This site does not provide investing recommendations as that comes down to individual circumstances. Instead, it is for generalized informational, educational, and entertainment purposes. Visitors should always do their own research and consult, as needed, with a financial adviser that's familiar with the individual circumstances before making any investment decisions. Bottom line: The opinions found here should never be considered specific individualized investment advice and never a recommendation to buy or sell anything.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Quotes of 2017

Here's a collection of quotes said or written at some point during 2017.

Innovators, Imitators, & the Swarming Incompetents
"...the great majority of [investment] managers who attempt to over-perform will fail. The probability is also very high that the person soliciting your funds will not be the exception who does well. Bill Ruane...said it well: 'In investment management, the progression is from the innovators to the imitators to the swarming incompetents.'

Further complicating the search for the rare high-fee manager who is worth his or her pay is the fact that some investment professionals, just as some amateurs, will be lucky over short periods. If 1,000 managers make a market prediction at the beginning of a year, it's very likely that the calls of at least one will be correct for nine consecutive years. Of course, 1,000 monkeys would be just as likely to produce a seemingly all-wise prophet. But there would remain a difference: The lucky monkey would not find people standing in line to invest with him." - Warren Buffett

Buffett on Bogle
"If a statue is ever erected to honor the person who has done the most for American investors, the hands-down choice should be Jack Bogle. For decades, Jack has urged investors to invest in ultra-low-cost index funds. In his crusade, he amassed only a tiny percentage of the wealth that has typically flowed to managers who have promised their investors large rewards while delivering them nothing – or, as in our bet, less than nothing – of added value.

In his early years, Jack was frequently mocked by the investment-management industry. Today, however, he has the satisfaction of knowing that he helped millions of investors realize far better returns on their savings than they otherwise would have earned. He is a hero to them and to me." - Warren Buffett

Buffett on American Business
"American business – and consequently a basket of stocks – is virtually certain to be worth far more in the years ahead. Innovation, productivity gains, entrepreneurial spirit and an abundance of capital will see to that. Ever-present naysayers may prosper by marketing their gloomy forecasts. But heaven help them if they act on the nonsense they peddle.

Many companies, of course, will fall behind, and some will fail. Winnowing of that sort is a product of market dynamism. Moreover, the years ahead will occasionally deliver major market declines – even panics – that will affect virtually all stocks. No one can tell you when these traumas will occur – not me, not Charlie, not economists, not the media. Meg McConnell of the New York Fed aptly described the reality of panics: 'We spend a lot of time looking for systemic risk; in truth, however, it tends to find us.'

During such scary periods, you should never forget two things: First, widespread fear is your friend as an investor, because it serves up bargain purchases. Second, personal fear is your enemy. It will also be unwarranted. Investors who avoid high and unnecessary costs and simply sit for an extended period with a collection of large, conservatively-financed American businesses will almost certainly do well." - Warren Buffett

Destroying Bad Ideas - Part II

"...I've done so many dumb things that I'm very busy destroying bad ideas because I keep having them. So it's hard for me to just single out one from such a multitude. But I actually like it when I destroy a bad idea because...I think it's my duty to destroy old ideas. I know so many people whose main problem of life, is that the old ideas displace the entry of new ideas that are better. That is the absolute standard outcome in life. There's an old German folk saying...'We're too soon old and we're too late smart.' That's everybody's problem. And the reason we're too late smart is that the stupid ideas we...already have, we can't get rid of!...in most fields you want to get rid of your old ideas. And it's a good habit, and it gives you a big advantage in the competitive game of life since other people are so very bad at it. What happens is, as you spout ideas out, what you're doing is you're pounding them in. And so you get these ideas and then you start agitating and saying them and so forth. And of course, the person you're really convincing is you who already had the ideas. You're just pounding them in harder and harder. One of the reasons I don't spend much time telling the world what I think about how the federal reserve system should behave and so forth is I know that I'm just pounding the ideas into my own head when I think I'm telling the other people how to run things. So I think you have to have mental habits that -- I don't like it when young people get violently convinced on every damn cause or something. They think they know everything. Some 17 year old who wants to tell the whole world what should be done about abortion or foreign policy...or something. All he's doing when he or she spouts about what he deeply believes is pounding the ideas he already has in, which is a very dumb idea when you're just starting and have a lot to learn.

So it's very important that habit of getting rid of the dumb ideas. One of things I do is pat myself on the back every time I get rid of a dumb idea. You could say, 'could you really reinforce your own good behavior?' Yeah, you can. When other people won't praise you, you can praise yourself. I have a big system of patting myself on the back. Every time I get rid of a much beloved idea I pat myself on the back. Sometime several times. And I recommend the same mental habit to all of you. The price we pay for [not] being able to accept a new idea is just awesomely large." - Charlie Munger

Happy New Year,

Adam

Quotes of 2016 
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This site does not provide investing recommendations as that comes down to individual circumstances. Instead, it is for generalized informational, educational, and entertainment purposes. Visitors should always do their own research and consult, as needed, with a financial adviser that's familiar with the individual circumstances before making any investment decisions. Bottom line: The opinions found here should never be considered specific individualized investment advice and never a recommendation to buy or sell anything.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Destroying Bad Ideas - Part II

Charlie Munger has talked about the importance of routinely ridding oneself of the ideas -- often inferior yet, due to various biases and misjudgments, still favored -- that inevitably accumulate over time.

Destroying Bad Ideas - Part I

The problem is it's all too easy to do just the opposite -- to seek information that confirms what one already believes to be correct. In other words, after becoming enamored with a particular worldview, most don't enjoy later admitting that the 'story' they've long believed -- especially when previously embraced with enthusiasm and vigorously defended -- was far from perfect!

"The ability to destroy your ideas rapidly instead of slowly when the occasion is right is one of the most valuable things." - Charlie Munger at the 2006 Wesco Annual Meeting

So, instead, way too much energy is spent defending the flawed outlook while, at the same time, continuing to seek 'proof' of being 'right all along'.

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself -- and you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard Feynman

Preferred views of reality have a more than decent chance of being riddled with defects. It's expecting that as the norm then attempting to be just a bit less wrong over time. This makes necessary an "ability to destroy your ideas rapidly" which is, well, more than challenging enough.

Developing, as a reliable mental habit, the capacity to get rid of subpar ideas depends on humility more so than brilliance.

With the above in mind consider what Charlie Munger said at the Daily Journal (DJCO) meeting earlier this year.

Munger, at the meeting, was asked which one of his ideas he found to be most difficult to destroy.

His answer:

"Well I've done so many dumb things that I'm very busy destroying bad ideas because I keep having them. So it's hard for me to just single out one from such a multitude. But I actually like it when I destroy a bad idea because...I think it's my duty to destroy old ideas. I know so many people whose main problem of life, is that the old ideas displace the entry of new ideas that are better. That is the absolute standard outcome in life. There's an old German folk saying...'We're too soon old and we're too late smart.' That's everybody's problem. And the reason we're too late smart is that the stupid ideas we...already have, we can't get rid of!...in most fields you want to get rid of your old ideas. And it's a good habit, and it gives you a big advantage in the competitive game of life since other people are so very bad at it. What happens is, as you spout ideas out, what you're doing is you're pounding them in. And so you get these ideas and then you start agitating and saying them and so forth. And of course, the person you're really convincing is you who already had the ideas. You're just pounding them in harder and harder. One of the reasons I don't spend much time telling the world what I think about how the federal reserve system should behave and so forth is I know that I'm just pounding the ideas into my own head when I think I'm telling the other people how to run things. So I think you have to have mental habits that -- I don't like it when young people get violently convinced on every damn cause or something. They think they know everything. Some 17 year old who wants to tell the whole world what should be done about abortion or foreign policy...or something. All he's doing when he or she spouts about what he deeply believes is pounding the ideas he already has in, which is a very dumb idea when you're just starting and have a lot to learn.

So it's very important that habit of getting rid of the dumb ideas. One of things I do is pat myself on the back every time I get rid of a dumb idea. You could say, 'could you really reinforce your own good behavior?' Yeah, you can. When other people won't praise you, you can praise yourself. I have a big system of patting myself on the back. Every time I get rid of a much beloved idea I pat myself on the back. Sometime several times. And I recommend the same mental habit to all of you. The price we pay for [not] being able to accept a new idea is just awesomely large. Indeed a lot of people die because they can't get new ideas through their head."

Charlie Munger's known for saying"I have nothing to add."

Well, it seems best to behave the same way when something as wise as the above is said.

Adam

No position in DJCO

Related posts:

Destorying Bad Ideas - Part I
Investing Blunders
Buffett's $ 200 Billion Blunder

This site does not provide investing recommendations as that comes down to individual circumstances. Instead, it is for generalized informational, educational, and entertainment purposes. Visitors should always do their own research and consult, as needed, with a financial adviser that's familiar with the individual circumstances before making any investment decisions. Bottom line: The opinions found here should never be considered specific individualized investment advice and never a recommendation to buy or sell anything.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Berkshire Hathaway 3rd Quarter 2017 13F-HR

The Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa3rd Quarter 13F-HR was released yesterday. Below is a summary of the changes that were made to the Berkshire equity portfolio during that quarter.
(For a convenient comparison, here's a post from last quarter that summarizes Berkshire's 2nd Quarter 13F-HR.)

There was both some buying and selling during the quarter. Here's a quick summary of the changes:*

Added to Existing Positions
Apple (AAPL): 3.9 mil. shares bought (3% incr.); stake = $ 20.7 bil.
Monsanto (MON): 832 thous. shares (10% incr.); stake = $ 1.1 bil.

I generally include above only those positions that were worth at least $ 1 billion at the end of the 3rd quarter. In a portfolio this size -- more than $ 310 billion (equities, fixed income, cash, and other investments including Kraft Heinz: KHC at end of quarter market value) according to the latest available filing with roughly half made up of common stocks** -- a position that's less than $ 1 billion doesn't really move the needle much.

Synchrony Financial (SYF) is the only positions added to worth less than $ 1 billion.

New Position
Bank of America (BAC): 679 mil. shares; stake = $ 17.2 bil.

The new position in BofA common stock is the direct result of warrants that were exercised by Berkshire in August of this year. It's now one of Berkshire's top five equity holdings.

From the latest Berkshire 10-Q:

In 2011, we acquired 50,000 shares of 6% Non-Cumulative Perpetual Preferred Stock of Bank of America Corporation (“BAC”) with a liquidation value of $100,000 per share (“BAC Preferred”) and warrants to purchase up to 700,000,000 shares of common stock of BAC (“BAC Warrants”) at $7.142857 per share (up to $5 billion in the aggregate). On August 24, 2017, we exercised all of our BAC Warrants and acquired 700,000,000 shares of BAC common stock. We also surrendered substantially all of our BAC Preferred as payment of the $5 billion cost to exercise the BAC Warrants and acquire the BAC common stock.

The 679 million shares of BofA common stock held by Berkshire at the end of the 3rd quarter is somewhat less than the 700 million shares acquired on August 24th. The remaining shares are reported separately.

Reduced Positions
Wells Fargo (WFC): 3.8 mil. shares sold (<1% decr.); stake = $ 25.6 bil.
IBM (IBM): 17.1 mil. shares (31% decr.); stake = $ 5.4 bil.
Charter (CHTR): 954 thous. shares (10% decr.); stake = $ 3.1 bil.

Berkshire had previously announced they may need to sell some of their Wells Fargo shares from time to time to keep the ownership stake below 10%.

No other positions valued at more than $ 1 billion were partially sold off during the quarter.

Sold Positions
WABCO (WBC)

Berkshire's latest 13F-HR filing did not indicate any activity was kept confidential.

Occasionally, the SEC allows Berkshire to keep certain moves in the portfolio confidential. The permission is granted by the SEC when a case can be made that the disclosure may cause buyers to drive up the price before Berkshire makes its additional purchases.

Also, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler are responsible for part of the Berkshire equity portfolio. So some of the changes -- especially those involving smaller positions -- will generally be the work of the two portfolio managers.

Top Five Holdings
After the changes, Berkshire's portfolio of equity securities remains mostly made up of financial, consumer, and technology stocks (primarily IBM and Apple).

1. Wells Fargo (WFC) = $ 25.6 bil.
2. Kraft Heinz (KHC) = $ 25.3 bil.
3. Apple (AAPL) = $ 20.7 bil.
4. Coca-Cola (KO) = $ 18.0 bil.
5. Bank of America (BAC) = $ 17.2 bil.

As is almost always the case it's a very concentrated portfolio. The top five often represent 60-70 percent and, at times, even more of the equity portfolio. In addition, Berkshire also owns equity securities listed on exchanges outside the U.S., plus fixed maturity securities, cash and cash equivalents, and other investments.

The portfolio excludes all the operating businesses that Berkshire owns outright with ~ 367,000 employees (25 being at headquarters) according to the latest available annual report.

Here are some examples of Berkshire's non-insurance businesses:

MidAmerican Energy, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, McLane Company, The Marmon Group, Shaw Industries, Benjamin Moore, Johns Manville, Acme Building, MiTek, Fruit of the Loom, Russell Athletic Apparel, NetJets, Nebraska Furniture Mart, See's Candies, Dairy Queen, The Pampered Chef, Business Wire, Iscar, Lubrizol, Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, Oriental Trading Company, Precision Castparts, and Duracell.
(Among others.)

In addition to the above businesses and investment portfolio, Berkshire's large insurance operation (BH Reinsurance, General Re, GEICO etc.) has historically been rather profitable while providing plenty of "float" for their investments.

See page 116 of the annual report for a more complete listing of Berkshire's businesses.

Adam

Long positions in BRKb, WFC, AAPL, KO, and BAC established at much lower than recent market prices. Also, long position in IBM established somewhat above recent market prices. (In each case compared to average cost basis.)

* All values shown are based upon the last trading day of the 3rd quarter.
** Berkshire Hathaway's holdings of ADRs are included in the 13F. What is not included are shares listed on exchanges outside the United States. The status of those shares, if a large enough position, are updated in the annual letter. So the only way any of the stocks listed on exchanges outside the U.S. will show up in the 13F is if Berkshire buys the ADR. Also, certain equity holdings are reported separately while investments in things like preferred shares and warrants, when applicable, are not included in the Berkshire 13F.
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This site does not provide investing recommendations as that comes down to individual circumstances. Instead, it is for generalized informational, educational, and entertainment purposes. Visitors should always do their own research and consult, as needed, with a financial adviser that's familiar with the individual circumstances before making any investment decisions. Bottom line: The opinions found here should never be considered specific individualized investment advice and never a recommendation to buy or sell anything.
 
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