Buffett's Letter: Shorter and Less Upbeat

An article in Institutional Investor published after the release of Berkshire’s annual letter to shareholders said, “It isn’t what Warren Buffett wrote in his shareholder letter—it’s what he didn’t.”

Noting the brevity of the letter compared to years past, the article notes that the “low word count should be unsettling to Buffett-watchers,” underscoring, for example, the “scant attention” paid to Kraft Heinz, “which lost more than a quarter of its stock market capitalization” only one week ago.

“Much of Buffett’s success historically derives from his understanding of brands and their power,” the article says. Citing comments from Meyer Shields, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc., it suggests that perhaps changes in consumer behavior (specifically, the increasingly rapid shift in tastes) might be negatively impacting Buffett’s ability to pick consumer stocks.

The article notes that Berkshire’s decision to change the way it reports earnings might also confound readers. In years past, it explains, the businesses were broken in to three groups for reporting purposes (Insurance and Other; Railroad, Utilities and Energy; Finance and Financial Products), but that now the businesses are grouped together, “depriving investors the opportunity of closely monitoring those businesses’ performance and to make year-over-year comparisons.” According to Shields, the change is “opaque. It’s disheartening.”