Warren Buffett has published his always excellent annual shareholder letter. It is a pleasure to read them every year, when they are published, and re-read them at other times of the year.
At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment. They simply get a letter from me every two years and call me when they wish.
From a standing start in 1985, Ajit has created an insurance business with float of $30 billion and significant underwriting profits, a feat that no CEO of any other insurer has come close to matching. By his accomplishments, he has added a great many billions of dollars to the value of Berkshire.
At bottom, a sound insurance operation requires four disciplines… (4) The willingness to walk away if the appropriate premium can’t be obtained. Many insurers pass the first three tests and flunk the fourth. The urgings of Wall Street, pressures from the agency force and brokers, or simply a refusal by a testosterone-driven CEO to accept shrinking volumes has led too many insurers to write business at inadequate prices. “The other guy is doing it so we must as well” spells trouble in any business, but none more so than insurance.
a few have very poor returns, a result of some serious mistakes I have made in my job of capital allocation. These errors came about because I misjudged either the competitive strength of the business I was purchasing or the future economics of the industry in which it operated. I try to look out ten or twenty years when making an acquisition, but sometimes my eyesight has been poor.
It’s easy to identify many investment managers with great recent records. But past results, though important, do not suffice when prospective performance is being judged. How the record has been achieved is crucial, as is the manager’s understanding of – and sensitivity to – risk (which in no way should be measured by beta, the choice of too many academics). In respect to the risk criterion, we were looking for someone with a hard-to-evaluate skill: the ability to anticipate the effects of economic scenarios not previously observed. Finally, we wanted someone who would regard working for Berkshire as far more than a job.
Warren Buffett packs in great lessons all throughout the letter. Read it and take them to heart.
Related: Buffett Calls on Bank CEOs and Boards to be Held Responsible – Warren Buffett’s Q&A With Shareholders 2009 – The Greatest Wall Street Danger of All: You – Warren Buffet Webcast to MBAs – Warren Buffett’s 2007 Letter to Shareholders – Warren Buffett’s Annual Report
The biggest investing failing is not saving any money – so failing to invest. But once people actually save the next biggest issue I see is people confusing the investment risk of one investment in isolation from the investment risk of that investment within their portfolio.
It is not less risky to have your entire retirement in treasury bills than to have a portfolio of stocks, bonds, international stocks, treasury bills, REITs… This is because their are not just risk of an investment declining in value. There are inflation risks, taxation risks… In addition, right now markets are extremely distorted due to the years of bailouts to large banks by the central banks (where they are artificially keeping short term rates extremely low passing benefits to investment bankers and penalizing individual investors in treasury bills and other short term debt instruments). There is also safety (for long term investments – 10, 20, 30… years) in achieving higher returns to gain additional assets – increased savings provide additional safety.
Yes, developing markets are volatile and will go up and down a lot. No, it is not risky to put 5% of your retirement account in such investments if you have 0% now. I think it is much riskier to not have any real developing market exposure (granted even just having an S&P 500 index fund you have some – because lots of those companies are going to make a great deal in developing markets over the next 20 years).
I believe treating very long term investments (20, 30, 40… years) as though the month to month or even year to year volatility were of much interest leads people to invest far too conservatively and exacerbates the problem of not saving enough.
Now as the investment horizon shrinks it is increasing import to look at moving some of the portfolio into assets that are very stable (treasury bills, bank savings account…). Having 5 years of spending in such assets makes great sense to me. And the whole portfolio should be shifted to have a higher emphasis on preservation of capital and income (I like dividends stocks that have historically increased dividends yearly and are likely to continue). And the same time, even when you are retired, if you saved properly, a big part of your portfolio should still include assets that will be volatile and have good prospects for long term appreciation.
Related: books on investing – Where to Invest for Yield Today – Lazy Portfolios Seven-year Winning Streak (2009) – Fed Continues Wall Street Welfare (2008), now bankers pay themselves huge bonuses because the Fed transferred investment returns to too-big-to-fail-banks from retirees, and others, investing in t-bills.
The 12 stock for 10 years portfolio consists of stocks I would be comfortable putting into an IRA for 10 years. The main criteria is for companies with a history of large positive cash flow, that seemed likely to continue that trend.
The current Marketocracy* calculated annualized rate or return (which excludes Tesco) is 7.6% (the S&P 500 annualized return for the period is 4.8%). Marketocracy subtracts the equivalent of 2% of assets annually to simulate management fees – as though the portfolio were a mutual fund – so without that (it is not like this portfolio takes much management), the return beats the S&P 500 annual return by about 4.8% annually (it would be a bit less with Tesco, but still over 4%).
In the last 6 months, I sold a portion of the Amazon position (the price seems quit rich for the stock and the portion of the portfolio it represented has increase due to the large gain) and I bought some additional Toyota (due to a good price and to increase the portion of the fund Toyota represented). In the last 6 months Toyota and Danaher have done particularly well.
The current stocks, in order of return:
|Stock||Current Return||% of sleep well portfolio now||% of the portfolio if I were buying today|
|Amazon – AMZN||361%||10%||7%|
|Google – GOOG||189%||16%||14%|
|PetroChina – PTR||110%||7%||6%|
|Templeton Dragon Fund – TDF||96%||10%||10%|
|Templeton Emerging Market Fund – EMF||70%||5%||6%|
|Danaher – DHR||47%||10%||10%|
|Toyota – TM||25%||10%||10%|
|Apple – AAPL||25%||6%||5%|
|Intel – INTC||2%||5%||7%|
|Cisco – CSCO||-3%||4%||6%|
|Tesco – TSCDY||-2%**||0%*||10%|
|Pfizer – PFE||-20%||5%||7%|
The current marketocracy results can be seen on the Sleep Well marketocracy portfolio page.
Vanguard long advised people to put 9% to 12% of their salaries—including the employer contribution—in their 401(k) plans. The current median amount that people contribute is 9%, counting the employer contribution, Vanguard says.
Recently, Vanguard has begun urging people to contribute 12% to 15%, including the employer contribution, because of the stock market’s weak returns and uncertainty about the future of Social Security and Medicare.
Experts estimate Social Security will provide as much as 40% of pre-retirement income, or $35,080 a year for that median family. That leaves $39,465 needed from other sources. Most 401(k) accounts don’t come close to making up that gap.
The median 401(k) plan held $149,400, including plans from previous jobs, according to the Center for Retirement Research. To figure the annual income from that, analysts typically look at what the family would get from a fixed annuity. That $149,400 would generate just $9,073 a year for a couple, according to New York Life Insurance Co., the leading provider of such annuities— less than one-quarter of the $39,465 needed.
Just 8% of households approaching retirement have the $636,673 or more in their 401(k)s that would be needed to generate $39,465 a year.
Knowing exactly what is needed for retirement is difficult. But knowing what is a responsible amount is not. It is certainly no less than 8%, and is likely the 12-15% figure Vanguard recommends. If you start at 10% from the time you join the full time workforce (in your 20’s) then you have some flexibility you can see how thing look when you are 30, maybe 12% is sensible, maybe 15%, maybe 10%. If you fail to save for a decade however, you are likely to need to be at 15%, or higher.