My thoughts on Warren Buffet’s Letter to Berkshire Shareholders

I don’t really know what compelled me to read Warren Buffet’s yearly Berkshire letter. I’ve never read it before. But I’m glad I did.

It dawned on me that a 29 page document set at 11 point in Microsoft Word, may not be the most interesting read. But I set out to print a copy and read through each one. On the train and reclining at home, I pored through the numbers and the analysis.

To be honest, the density of the numbers/math kind of flew over me. I should stop saying math is difficult, but here I am again—math is really difficult for me. But strictly, I’m here for the analysis.

Right off the bat, Buffet does something interesting: he expresses humility. A humility in his own failure to invest properly, and making poor investment decisions. To be able to come to such a conclusion requires a gargantuan set of balls, and a destruction of the ego. But that’s not a big deal for a man who is often considered the wealthiest.

Buffet embraces humanism and capitalism in the same breath.

It's also interesting how Buffet embraces humanism and capitalism in the same breath. He talks about the stretching of money as if it was a pliable material, always elastic, never compromised. When he converses about his staff, other investors, and the larger American economy, he is bold, brash, and kind.

His opinions are remarkably simple. You get a sense that this man deeply believes in making sound financial investments. It nearly elicits a ready joy on the horizon whenever he talks about money. Take this statement for instance, “Americans have combined human ingenuity, a market system, a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants, and the rule of law to deliver abundance beyond any dreams of our forefathers.” He doesn’t mince words for a second. His vision on the American dream is clear, and the undertone of possibility is rich.

I also did not get the impression he was greedy or self-centered. He elevates a discussion on immigration, alluding to the great power of American innovation is fueled by the diversity of those entering this nation. He also talked about reducing costs for paycheck-strapped customers trying to pay their electricity. He talks about the loan forgiveness programs on home loans and prides himself with more people having more roofs.

His political views are clearly liberal, but also set with an America-first principle. Take for instance, his approach on maintain cash reserves here in America, versus overseas like most multi-national conglomerates. He understands the American tax code and flexes it in such a way that you’d think the lawyers would buckle under pressure.

He is also a businessman first and foremost. He sells his investors GEICO, over and over again. Through the subtle art of repetition, he drills home the value of his investments (nee Berkshire) to his shareholders. And it’s a compelling argument. A solvent company with a solid product meets a buyer in need of a service.

He even placed (huge) bets as a validation for his financial theories, and as a lesson to investors (and non-investors) everywhere. His recommendation, to invest in a Low Index S&P 500 fund, against the employment of financial managers who charge exorbitant fees, is clear.

Buffet intermingles human behavior, experience, and money making into a cohesive system.

For example, he reconciles that the wealthy individual is fooled into using financial managers because they’ve been trained their entire life to enjoy luxury services. Why not pay for a product, it should provide a better answer? But Buffet is saying, wealthy people, stop it! Stop this nonsense. Invest in a Low Index S&P 500 Fund. You will do better in the long run.

Everyone that participates in the financial picture is a target of Buffet’s opinions. Financial managers, investors, shareholders, accountants, bookkeepers, tax men and women, legislators, politicians, wealthy and poor individuals, and America as a whole. He dishes out honest, pointed advice to promote a good financial attitude.

I like the little bits of advice as well. A few nuggets:

  • What is easy with millions, struggles with billions.
  • Charlie and I love our railroad (so do I!)
  • We like to make hay while the sun sets, knowing that it will surely rise again.
  • When others are constrained, our choices expand.
  • What is smart at one price is stupid at another.
  • Every decade or so, dark clouds will fill the economic skies, and they will briefly rain gold. When downpours of that sort occur, it’s imperative that we rush outdoors carrying washtubs, not teaspoons.
  • As in the case in marriage, business acquisitions often deliver surprises after the “I do’s.”

Even the way he talks about the annual Berkshire meeting is lovely, human, and a marketing 101 refresher in clear communication.

Once I looked past the financials and mined for insights, I struck gold. Buffet is a snowflake investor that deserves careful consideration, and his opinions might even make you a little more wealthier (at least I'm wealthier with my new knowledge).

If you haven't already read Warren Buffet's letter, I highly recommend it. I know I'll be back again to read next years'.

Ashraf Ali