Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter 1984

From the 1984 letter I have picked extracts of wisdom related to the following topics: the positive effects of share repurchases, businesslike investing, concentration and looking like a fool and lessons about restricted and unrestricted earnings.

Please comment if you have read the letter and what you thought of it. Also, if you have found a worldly wisdom in the letter that you think I should have included please comment on that as well. I’m very interested in what caught your eye while reading and why.

Worldly wisdom’s from Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter – 1984

1.

“By making repurchases when a company’s market value is well below its business value, management clearly demonstrates that it is given to actions that enhance the wealth of shareholders, rather than to actions that expand management’s domain but that do nothing for (or even harm) shareholders. Seeing this, shareholders and potential shareholders increase their estimates of future returns from the business. This upward revision, in turn, produces market prices more in line with intrinsic business value. These prices are entirely rational. Investors should pay more for a business that is lodged in the hands of a manager with demonstrated pro-shareholder leanings than for one in the hands of a self-interested manager marching to a different drummer. (To make the point extreme, how much would you pay to be a minority shareholder of a company controlled by Robert Wesco?)

The key word is “demonstrated”. A manager who consistently turns his back on repurchases, when these clearly are in the interests of owners, reveals more than he knows of his motivations. No matter how often or how eloquently he mouths some public relations-inspired phrase such as “maximizing shareholder wealth” (this season’s favorite), the market correctly discounts assets lodged with him. His heart is not  listening to his mouth – and, after a while, neither will the market.”

2.

“In what I think is by far the best book on investing ever written – “The Intelligent Investor”, by Ben Graham – the last section of the last chapter begins with, “Investment is most intelligent when it is most businesslike.” This section is called “A Final Word”, and it is appropriately titled.”

3.

“Even though our long-term results may turn out fine, in any given year we run a risk that we will look extraordinarily foolish. (That’s why all of these sentences say “Charlie and I”, or “we”.)

Most managers have very little incentive to make the intelligent-but-with-some-chance of-looking-like-an-idiot decision. Their personal gain/loss ratio is all too obvious: if an unconventional decision works out well, they get a pat on the back and, if it works out poorly, they get a pink slip. (Failing conventionally is the route to go; as a group, lemmings may have a rotten image, but no individual lemming has ever received bad press.)

[…]

We remain unconventional in the degree to which we concentrate the investments of our insurance companies, including those in WPPSS bonds. This concentration makes sense only because our insurance business is conducted from a position of exceptional financial strength. For almost all other insurers, a comparable degree of concentration (or anything close to it) would be totally inappropriate. Their capital positions are not strong enough to withstand a big error, no matter how attractive an investment opportunity might appear when analyzed on the basis of probabilities.

With our financial strength we can own large blocks of a few securities that we have thought hard about and bought at attractive prices. (Billy Rose described the problem of over-diversification: “If you have a harem of forty women, you never get to know any of them very well.”) Over time our policy of concentration should produce superior results, though these will be tempered by our large size. When this policy produces a really bad year, as it must, at least you will know that our money was committed on the same basis as yours.”

4.

“Restricted earnings are seldom valueless to owners, but they often must be discounted heavily. In effect, they are conscripted by the business, no matter how poor its economic potential. (This retention-no-matter-how-unattractive-the-return situation was communicated unwittingly in a marvelously ironic way by Consolidated Edison a decade ago. At the time, a punitive regulatory policy was a major factor causing the company’s stock to sell as low as one-fourth of book value; i.e., every time a dollar of earnings was retained for reinvestment in the business, that dollar was transformed into only 25 cents of market value. But, despite this gold-into-lead process, most earnings were reinvested in the business rather than paid to owners. Meanwhile, at construction and maintenance sites throughout New York, signs proudly proclaimed the corporate slogan, “Dig We  Must”.)”

5.

“For a number of reasons managers like to withhold unrestricted, readily distributable earnings from shareholders – to expand the corporate empire over which the managers rule, to operate from a position of exceptional financial comfort, etc. But we believe there is only one valid reason for retention. Unrestricted earnings should be retained only when there is a reasonable prospect – backed preferably by historical evidence or, when appropriate, by a thoughtful analysis of the future – that for every dollar retained by the corporation, at least one dollar of market value will be created for owners. This will happen only if the capital retained produces incremental earnings equal to, or above, those generally available to investors.”

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter 1983

This is where my task of picking the five most unique and insightful extracts from the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters starts to get really hard. The 1983 letter is twenty pages long and packed with investing wisdom. The forthcoming letters are not shorter why I realize that I will continue to struggle in my selection process of extracts as I’m certain that the level of investing wisdom will remain intact.

The increase in number of pages per letter, the 1977 letter for example was only six pages long, can in my opinion be explained by a change in both content and style of the letters. What I mean is that letters are no longer a strict presentation of financial information. Rather, the financial information is now incorporated into stories about the businesses that Berkshire own and the managers that run these businesses. A perfect example is the presentation of Nebraska Furniture Mart and Mrs Rose Blumkin in the 1983 letter. Also, the style of the letters has drifted towards the meaning and implications of the financial outcomes to the degree of having an investors/reader education purpose. An example of this is the discussion about goodwill in the 1983 letter and the appendix about goodwill and its amortization included in the 1983 letter.

Before presenting the extracts that I have chosen from the 1983 letter I would like to share with you a short clip of Rose Blumkin (Mrs. B), the founder of Nebraska Furniture Mart. Berkshire acquired a 90 % ownership in Nebraska Furniture Mark in 1983 and Mrs. B, then 90 years old (!), remained as chairman as well as working seven days a week in the store. She’s truly an intelligent fanatic.

 

Please comment if you have read the letter and what you thought of it. Also, if you have found a worldly wisdom in the letter that you think I should have included please comment on that as well. I’m very interested in what caught your eye while reading and why.

Worldly wisdom’s from Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter – 1983

1.

“One question I always ask myself in appraising a business is how I would like, assuming I had ample capital and skilled personnel, to compete with it. I’d rather wrestle grizzlies than compete with Mrs. B and her progeny. They buy brilliantly, they operate at expense ratios competitors don’t even dream about, and they then pass on to their customers much of the savings. It’s the ideal business – one built upon exceptional value to the customer that in turn translates into exceptional economics for its owners.”

2.

“We never take the one-year figure very seriously. After all, why should the time required for a planet to circle the sun synchronize precisely with the time required for business actions to pay off? Instead, we recommend not less than a five-year test as a rough yardstick of economic performance.”

3.

“We report our progress in terms of book value because in our case (though not, by any means, in all cases) it is a conservative but reasonably adequate proxy for growth in intrinsic business value – the measurement that really counts. Book value’s virtue as a score-keeping measure is that it is easy to calculate and doesn’t involve the subjective (but important) judgments employed in calculation of intrinsic business value. It is important to understand, however, that the two terms – book value and intrinsic business value – have very different meanings.

Book value is an accounting concept, recording the accumulated financial input from both contributed capital and retained earnings. Intrinsic business value is an economic concept, estimating future cash output discounted to present value. Book value tells you what has been put in; intrinsic business value estimates what can be taken out.

An analogy will suggest the difference. Assume you spend identical amounts putting each of two children through college. The book value (measured by financial input) of each child’s education would be the same. But the present value of the future payoff (the intrinsic business value) might vary enormously – from zero to many times the cost of the education. So, also, do businesses having equal financial input end up with wide variations in value”

4.

“Thus our first lesson: businesses logically are worth far more than net tangible assets when they can be expected to produce earnings on such assets considerably in excess of market rates of return. The capitalized value of this excess return is economic Goodwill.”

5.

“A good business is not always a good purchase – although it’s a good place to look for one.”

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter 1982

From the 1982 letter I have picked extracts of wisdom related to the following topics: the importance of being inactive, the importance of not paying to much, the hardship of business in industries with over-capacity and commodity products, the negative effects of stock issuance and an advert from Warren and Charlie.

Please comment if you have read the letter and what you thought of it. Also, if you have found a worldly wisdom in the letter that you think I should have included please comment on that as well. I’m very interested in what caught your eye while reading and why.

Worldly wisdom’s from Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter – 1982

1.

“As we look at the major acquisitions that others made during 1982, our reaction is not envy, but relief that we were non-participants. For in many of these acquisitions, managerial intellect wilted in competition with managerial adrenaline. The thrill of the chase blinded the pursuers to the consequences of the catch. Pascal’s observation seems apt: “It has struck me that all men’s misfortunes spring from the single cause that they are unable to stay quietly in one room.””

2.

“Our partial-ownership approach can be continued soundly only as long as portions of attractive businesses can be acquired at attractive prices. We need a moderately-priced stock market to assist us in this endeavor. The market, like the Lord, helps those who help themselves. But, unlike the Lord, the market does not forgive those who know not what they do. For the investor, a too-high purchase price for the stock of an excellent company can undo the effects of a subsequent decade of favorable business developments.”

3.

“Businesses in industries with both substantial over-capacity and a “commodity” product (undifferentiated in any customer-important way by factors such as performance, appearance, service support, etc.) are prime candidates for profit troubles. These may be escaped, true, if prices or costs are administered in some manner and thereby insulated at least partially from normal market forces. This administration can be carried out (a) legally through government intervention (until recently, this category included pricing for truckers and deposit costs for financial institutions), (b) illegally through collusion, or (c) “extra-legally” through OPEC-style foreign cartelization (with tag-along benefits for domestic non-cartel operators).

If, however, costs and prices are determined by full-bore competition, there is more than ample capacity, and the buyer cares little about whose product or distribution services he uses, industry economics are almost certain to be unexciting. They may well be disastrous.

Hence the constant struggle of every vendor to establish and emphasize special qualities of product or service. This works with candy bars (customers buy by brand name, not by asking for a “two-ounce candy bar”) but doesn’t work with sugar (how often do  you hear, “I’ll have a cup of coffee with cream and C & H sugar, please”).”

4.

“Finally, a word should be said about the “double whammy” effect upon owners of the acquiring company when value-diluting stock issuances occur. Under such circumstances, the first blow is the loss of intrinsic business value that occurs through the merger itself. The second is the downward revision in market valuation that, quite rationally, is given to that now-diluted business value. For current and prospective owners understandably will not pay as much for assets lodged in the hands of a management that has a record of wealth-destruction through unintelligent share issuances as they will pay for assets entrusted to a management with precisely equal operating talents, but a known distaste for anti-owner actions. Once management shows itself insensitive to the interests of owners, shareholders will suffer a long time from the price/value ratio afforded their stock (relative to other stocks), no matter what assurances management gives that the value-diluting action taken was a one-of-a-kind event.

Those assurances are treated by the market much as one-bug-in-the-salad explanations are treated at restaurants. Such explanations, even when accompanied by a new waiter, do not eliminate a drop in the demand (and hence market value) for salads, both on the part of the offended customer and his neighbors pondering what to order. Other things being equal, the highest stock market prices relative to intrinsic business value are given to companies whose managers have demonstrated their unwillingness to issue shares at any time on terms unfavorable to the owners of the business.

At Berkshire, or any company whose policies we determine (including Blue Chip and Wesco), we will issue shares only if our owners receive in business value as much as we give. We will not equate activity with progress or corporate size with owner-wealth.”

5.

“This annual report is read by a varied audience, and it is possible that some members of that audience may be helpful to us in our acquisition program.

We prefer:

(1) large purchases (at least $5 million of after-tax earnings),

(2) demonstrated consistent earning power (future projections are of little interest to us, nor are “turn-around” situations),

(3) businesses earning good returns on equity while employing little or no debt,

(4) management in place (we can’t supply it),

(5) simple businesses (if there’s lots of technology, we won’t understand it),

(6) an offering price (we don’t want to waste our time or that of the seller by talking, even preliminarily, about a transaction when price is unknown).

We will not engage in unfriendly transactions. We can promise complete confidentiality and a very fast answer as to possible interest – customarily within five minutes. Cash purchases are preferred, but we will consider the use of stock when it can be done on the basis described in the previous section.”

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter 1981

The 1981 shareholder letter is a real gem packed with investing wisdom. The letter focuses on acquisition behavior of managers, Berkshires acquisition objectives and equity value-added under different market and company conditions. Also, there is a long discussion regarding insurance industry conditions that should be a mandatory read for anyone interested/invested in insurance companies.

Please comment if you have read the letter and what you thought of it. Also, if you have found a worldly wisdom in the letter that you think I should have included please comment on that as well. I’m very interested in what caught your eye while reading and why.

Worldly wisdom’s from Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter – 1981

1.

“In other words, investors can always buy toads at the going price for toads. If investors instead bankroll princesses who wish to pay double for the right to kiss the toad, those kisses had better pack some real dynamite. We’ve observed many kisses but very few  miracles. Nevertheless, many managerial princesses remain serenely confident about the future potency of their kisses – even after their corporate backyards are knee-deep in unresponsive toads.

[…]

We have tried occasionally to buy toads at bargain prices with results that have been chronicled in past reports. Clearly our kisses fell flat. We have done well with a couple of princes – but they were princes when purchased. At least our kisses didn’t turn them into toads. And, finally, we have occasionally been quite successful in purchasing fractional interests in easily-identifiable princes at toad-like prices.”

2.

“In fairness, we should acknowledge that some acquisition records have been dazzling. Two major categories stand out.

The first involves companies that, through design or accident, have purchased only businesses that are particularly well adapted to an inflationary environment. Such favored business must have two characteristics: (1) an ability to increase prices rather easily (even when product demand is flat and capacity is not fully utilized) without fear of significant loss of either market share or unit volume, and (2) an ability to  accommodate large dollar volume increases in business (often produced more by inflation than by real growth) with only minor additional investment of capital. Managers of ordinary ability, focusing solely on acquisition possibilities meeting these tests, have achieved excellent results in recent decades. However, very few enterprises possess both characteristics, and competition to buy those that do has now become fierce to the point of being self-defeating.

The second category involves the managerial superstars – men who can recognize that rare prince who is disguised as a toad, and who have managerial abilities that enable them to peel away the disguise. We salute such managers as Ben Heineman at Northwest Industries, Henry Singleton at Teledyne, Erwin Zaban at National Service Industries, and especially Tom Murphy at Capital Cities Communications (a real managerial “twofer”, whose acquisition efforts have been properly focused in Category 1 and whose operating talents also make him a leader of Category 2). From both direct and vicarious experience, we recognize the difficulty and rarity of these executives’ achievements. (So do they; these champs have made very few deals in recent years, and often have found repurchase of their own shares to be the most sensible employment of corporate capital.)”

3.

“We will continue to seek the acquisition of businesses in their entirety at prices that will make sense, even should the  future of the acquired enterprise develop much along the lines of  its past. We may very well pay a fairly fancy price for a  Category 1 business if we are reasonably confident of what we are getting. But we will not normally pay a lot in any purchase for what we are supposed to bring to the party – for we find that we  ordinarily don’t bring a lot.

[…]

We expect that undistributed earnings from such companies will produce full value (subject to tax when realized) for Berkshire and its shareholders. If they don’t, we have made mistakes as to either: (1) the management we have elected to join; (2) the future economics of the business; or (3) the price we have paid.”

4.

“While investors and managers must place their feet in the future, their memories and nervous systems often remain plugged into the past. It is much easier for investors to utilize historic p/e ratios or for managers to utilize historic business valuation yardsticks than it is for either group to rethink their premises daily. When change is slow, constant rethinking is actually undesirable; it achieves little and slows response time. But when change is great, yesterday’s assumptions can be retained only at great cost. And the pace of economic change has become breathtaking.”

5.

“What makes sense for the bondholder makes sense for the shareholder. Logically, a company with historic and prospective high returns on equity should retain much or all of its earnings so that shareholders can earn premium returns on enhanced capital. Conversely, low returns on corporate equity would suggest a very high dividend payout so that owners could direct capital toward more attractive areas.

[…]

But inflation takes us through the looking glass into the upside-down world of Alice in Wonderland. When prices continuously rise, the “bad” business must retain every nickel that it can. Not because it is attractive as a repository for equity capital, but precisely because it is so unattractive, the low-return business must follow a high retention policy. If it wishes to continue operating in the future as it has in the past – and most entities, including businesses, do – it simply has no choice.”

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter 1980

We are now on day four of the Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders – 2017 Summer Reading Challenge and as a result we are moving into the 80’s. The 1980 letter is more or less focused on topics already discussed in previous letters. Nonetheless, you never get tired of picking Buffett’s brain regarding topics such as share buybacksretained earnings, turnarounds vs exceptional businesses and ostrich-like behavior. 

Please comment if you have read the letter and what you thought of it. Also, if you have found a worldly wisdom in the letter that you think I should have included please comment on that as well. I’m very interested in what caught your eye while reading and why.

Worldly wisdom’s from the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter – 1980

1.

“One usage of retained earnings we often greet with special enthusiasm when practiced by companies in which we have an investment interest is repurchase of their own shares. The reasoning is simple: if a fine business is selling in the market place for far less than intrinsic value, what more certain or more profitable utilization of capital can there be than significant enlargement of the interests of all owners at that bargain price. The competitive nature of corporate acquisition activity almost guarantees the payment of a full – frequently more than full price when a company buys the entire ownership of another enterprise. But the auction nature of security markets often allows finely-run companies the opportunity to purchase portions of their own businesses at a price under 50% of that needed to acquire the same earning power through the negotiated acquisition of another enterprise.”

2.

“Of course, this translation of retained earnings into market price appreciation is highly uneven (it goes in reverse some years), unpredictable as to timing, and unlikely to materialize on a precise dollar-for-dollar basis. And a silly purchase price for a block of stock in a corporation can negate the effects of a decade of earnings retention by that corporation. But when purchase prices are sensible, some long-term market recognition of the accumulation of retained earnings almost certainly will occur. Periodically you even will receive some frosting on the cake, with market appreciation far exceeding post purchase retained earnings.”

3.

“We have written in past reports about the disappointments that usually result from purchase and operation of “turnaround” businesses. Literally hundreds of turnaround possibilities in dozens of industries have been described to us over the years and, either as participants or as observers, we have tracked performance against expectations. Our conclusion is that, with few exceptions, when a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for poor fundamental economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.”

4.

“GEICO’s problems at that time put it in a position analogous to that of American Express in 1964 following the salad oil scandal. Both were one-of-a-kind companies, temporarily reeling from the effects of a fiscal blow that did not destroy their exceptional underlying economics. The GEICO and American Express situations, extraordinary business franchises with a localized excisable cancer (needing, to be sure, a skilled surgeon), should be distinguished from the true “turnaround” situation in which the managers expect – and need – to pull off a corporate Pygmalion.”

5.

“This ostrich-like behavior – selling the better assets and keeping the biggest losers – while less painful in the short term, is unlikely to be a winner in the long term.”

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter 1979

The 1979 shareholder letter gave me a very hard time for which five extracts to select as the most unique and insightful ones. In comparison to the two earlier letters, 1977 and 1978, the 1979 letter is much “meatier” in every aspect. An explanation for my observation could be that Berkshire during 1979 was initiated for NASDAQ trading on the OTC-market and thereby acquired a different following than before, i.e. equity analysts and financial magazines.

Unique for the 1979 letter is a long and very interesting section regarding financial reporting that in my opinion should be a mandatory read for every publicly traded company CEO. This was my favorite part of the 1979 letter. In conclusion, the letter is more detailed than previous ones but more importantly, there seems to be an increased effort and focus to explain both new and earlier made comments. As you will see below, this is done by Mr Buffett using stories, jokes and analogies.

Please comment if you have read the letter and what you thought of it. Also, if you have found a worldly wisdom in the letter that you think I should have included please comment on that as well. I’m very interested in what caught your eye while reading and why.

Worldly wisdom’s from the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter – 1979

1.

“That combination – the inflation rate plus the percentage of capital that must be paid by the owner to transfer into his own pocket the annual earnings achieved by the business (i.e., ordinary income tax on dividends and capital gains tax on retained earnings) – can be thought of as an “investor’s misery index”. When this index exceeds the rate of return earned on equity by the business, the investor’s purchasing power (real capital) shrinks even though he consumes nothing at all. We have no corporate solution to this problem; high inflation rates will not help us earn higher rates of return on equity.

2.

“In some businesses – a network TV station, for example – it is virtually impossible to avoid earning extraordinary returns on tangible capital employed in the business. And assets in such businesses sell at equally extraordinary prices, one thousand cents or more on the dollar, a valuation reflecting the splendid, almost unavoidable, economic results obtainable. Despite a fancy price tag, the “easy” business may be the better route to go.

We can speak from experience, having tried the other route. Your Chairman made the decision a few years ago to purchase Waumbec Mills in Manchester, New Hampshire, thereby expanding our textile commitment. By any statistical test, the purchase price was an extraordinary bargain; we bought well below the working capital of the business and, in effect, got very substantial amounts of machinery and real estate for less than nothing. But the purchase was a mistake. While we labored mightily, new problems arose as fast as old problems were tamed.

Both our operating and investment experience cause us to conclude that “turnarounds” seldom turn, and that the same energies and talent are much better employed in a good business purchased at a fair price than in a poor business purchased at a bargain price.”

3.

“You do not adequately protect yourself by being half awake while others are sleeping.”

4.

“In large part, companies obtain the shareholder constituency that they seek and deserve. If they focus their thinking and communications on short term results or short-term stock market consequences they will, in large part, attract shareholders who focus on the same factors. And if they are cynical in their treatment of investors, eventually that cynicism is highly likely to be returned by the investment community.

Phil Fisher, a respected investor and author, once likened the policies of the corporation in attracting shareholders to those of a restaurant attracting potential customers. A restaurant could seek a given clientele – patrons of fast foods, elegant dining, Oriental food, etc. – and eventually obtain an appropriate group of devotees. If the job were expertly done, that clientele, pleased with the service, menu, and price level offered, would return consistently. But the restaurant could not change its character constantly and end up with a happy and stable clientele. If the business vacillated between French cuisine and take-out chicken, the result would be a revolving door of confused and dissatisfied customers. […]

The reasoning of managements that seek large trading activity in their shares puzzles us. In effect, such managements are saying that they want a good many of the existing clientele continually to desert them in favor of new ones – because you can’t add lots of new owners (with new expectations) without losing lots of former owners.

We much prefer owners who like our service and menu and who return year after year.”

5.

“Your company is run on the principle of centralization of financial decisions at the top (the very top, it might be added), and rather extreme delegation of operating authority to a number of key managers at the individual company or business unit level. We could just field a basketball team with our corporate headquarters group (which utilizes only about 1500 square feet of space).

This approach produces an occasional major mistake that might have been eliminated or minimized through closer operating  controls. But it also eliminates large layers of costs and dramatically speeds decision-making. Because everyone has a great deal to do, a very great deal gets done. Most important of all, it enables us to attract and retain some extraordinarily talented individuals – people who simply can’t be hired in the normal course of events – who find working for Berkshire to be almost identical to running their own show.”

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter 1978

The 1978 letter to shareholders from Warren Buffett is eight pages long. Similar to the 1977 letter the focus is primarily on the different outcomes for Berkshire’s business operations during the year. Moreover, there is a rather long discussion about accounting effects as a result of the merger with Diversified Retailing Company, Inc. Nontheless, similar to the 1977 letter there are a few golden nuggets of wisdom in the 1978 letter that stands out and that I would like to share with you.

Before we dive into the extracts from the letter that I found to be the most unique and insightful ones I would like to share a talk by Mohnish Pabrai that I came across yesterday. The talk “Few Bets. Big Bets. Infrequent Bets.” is not only a good talk about value investing in general but a talk that is very relevant if you are reading or have read the Berkshire shareholder letters. I recommend that you listen to it!

 

Please comment if you have read the letter and what you thought of it. Also, if you have found a worldly wisdom in the letter that you think I should have included please comment on that as well. I’m very interested in what caught your eye while reading and why.

Worldly wisdom’s from the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter – 1978

1.

“In contrast to this cautious view about near term return from operations, we are optimistic about prospects for long term return from major equity investments held by our insurance companies. We make no attempt to predict how security markets will behave; successfully forecasting short term stock price movements is something we think neither we nor anyone else can do. In the longer run, however, we feel that many of our major equity holdings are going to be worth considerably more money  than we paid, and that investment gains will add significantly to the operating returns of the insurance group.”

2.

“Slow capital turnover, coupled with low profit margins on sales, inevitably produces inadequate returns on capital. Obvious approaches to improved profit margins involve differentiation of product, lowered manufacturing costs through more efficient equipment or better utilization of people, redirection toward fabrics enjoying stronger market trends, etc. Our management is diligent in pursuing such objectives. The problem, of course, is that our competitors are just as diligently doing the same thing.

The textile industry illustrates in textbook style how producers of relatively undifferentiated goods in capital intensive businesses must earn inadequate returns except under conditions of tight supply or real shortage. As long as excess productive capacity exists, prices tend to reflect direct operating costs rather than capital employed.”

3.

“This program of acquisition of small fractions of businesses (common stocks) at bargain prices, for which little enthusiasm exists, contrasts sharply with general corporate acquisition activity, for which much enthusiasm exists. It seems quite clear to us that either corporations are making very significant mistakes in purchasing entire businesses at prices prevailing in negotiated transactions and takeover bids, or that we eventually are going to make considerable sums of money buying small portions of such businesses at the greatly discounted valuations prevailing in the stock market. […]

We are not concerned with whether the market quickly revalues upward securities that we believe are selling at bargain prices. In fact, we prefer just the opposite since, in most years, we expect to have funds available to be a net buyer of securities. And consistent attractive purchasing is likely to prove to be of more eventual benefit to us than any selling opportunities provided by a short-term run up in stock prices to levels at which we are unwilling to continue buying.

Our policy is to concentrate holdings. We try to avoid buying a little of this or that when we are only lukewarm about the business or its price. When we are convinced as to attractiveness, we believe in buying worthwhile amounts.”

4.

“We are not at all unhappy when our wholly-owned businesses retain all of their earnings if they can utilize internally those funds at attractive rates. Why should we feel differently about retention of earnings by companies in which we hold small equity interests, but where the record indicates even better prospects for profitable employment of capital? (This proposition cuts the other way, of course, in industries with low capital requirements, or if management has a record of plowing capital into projects of low profitability; then earnings should be paid out or used to repurchase shares – often by far the most attractive option for capital utilization.)”

5.

“Our experience has been that the manager of an already high-cost operation frequently is uncommonly resourceful in finding new ways to add to overhead, while the manager of a tightly-run operation usually continues to find additional methods to curtail costs, even when his costs are already well below those of his competitors.”