Warren Buffett’s 50th anniversary letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders has now been analyzed by a myriad of pundits who have dissected just about every sentence of it. But, given that Buffett offers plenty of his trademark wisdom and wit in the 15-page communique, what are the most essential parts of the letter for investors? There’s plenty to pick from, but we think these two pages stand out.
Page 26: Ben, Charlie, and Cigar Butts
In his early years, Buffett espoused the “cigar butt” approach of his mentor, the great Benjamin Graham. He bought very cheap shares of often mediocre businesses, which he compared to discarded cigar butts. “Though the stub might be ugly and soggy, the puff would be free,” Buffett explained. “Once that momentary pleasure was enjoyed, however, no more could be expected.” On this page, Buffett talks about why, at the urging of partner Charlie Munger, he changed his approach. At the same time, he implies that the Graham approach can work well for some investors — your portfolio size is critical in terms of picking your approach.
Page 33: Math Doesn’t Change
It’s all about the last paragraph before the section break. Whether the “housing prices can’t go down” mantra of the mid-2000s, or the “new economy” rhetoric of the tech bubble, or the Dutch tulip mania of the 17th century, history is filled with examples of instances in which investors ignored value and rationality in favor of supposed new paradigms. And without fail those paradigms are proven illusory, as Buffett explains:
Of course, there are plenty of other pieces of wisdom in Buffett’s letter. If you haven’t read it in its entirety, a copy is available through this link.