In an interview with The New York Times, Warren Buffett recently discussed why he doesn’t like shorting stocks, and how he thinks the stock market has, for many investors, become a “casino game”.
“Charlie [Munger] and I both have talked about [shorting], we probably had a hundred ideas of things that would be good short sales,” Buffett told Andrew Ross Sorkin. “Probably 95 percent of them at least turned out to be, and I don’t think we would have made a dime out of it if we had been engaged in the activity. It’s too difficult.” Buffett says the timing of shorts is critical. “The whole thing about ‘longs’ is, if you know you’re right, you can just keep buying, and the lower it goes, the better you like it, and you can’t do that with shorts,” he says.
Buffett also said that the frequency most investors trade stocks today is a problem. “The emphasis on trading has increased. Just look at the turnover in all of the stocks,” he said. “Sales people have forever gotten paid by selling people something. Generally, you pay a doctor for how often he gets you to change prescriptions.”
Buffett noted that an investor couldn’t buy 10% of the farmland in Nebraska in three years if he or she wanted to. But he was able to obtain about 10% of IBM’s stock in six to eight months because shares change hands so frequently in the stock market. “The idea that people look at their holdings in such a way that that kind of volume exists means that to a great extent, it’s a casino game,” he said.