Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Warren Buffet partnership letters: A treasure trove for a value investor

Since last few days, I have been reading and re-reading Warren Buffet's partnership letters written to its limited partners from 1958 to 1969 and oh boy, what a pleasure it has been reading them! These letters gives very useful insights into thought process of this legendary investor in formative years of his investment management career. However what is more striking is the candour and forthrightness coming out of these letters. WB clearly articulates his investment philosophy, sets the expectations and moderates them fabulously while striving to provide a realistic picture of investment operations, its pitfalls and how the performance of such investment operations should be measured. These letters not only demonstrates clarity of thoughts and perseverance to stick with them but also the extremely strong character. My words will sound pale and insufficient to describe the richness of character and knowledge these letters carry. Hence I shall rest my desire to write any further and share the compiled letters from 1958 to 1969 here. 

It would be great to receive views on what are the key learning from these letters? Few pointers from my side

1) He created a basket/portfolio of stocks along different investment methodologies such as

 Generals: Undervalued business when analyzed from how much a private owner would pay; 

Work outs: special situations with specific time tables such as mergers, take over, de-merger etc and

Controls : where they had a management control or say in the day to day operations (resulted out of sustained buying of generals for long period of time)

This "portfolio approach" was very useful in ensuring consistent returns

2) Work out as a category was important factor in ensuring that returns from partnership outperformed the market in down years

3) WB always made it clear that this approach will substantially outperform the Dow Jones in declining market while may just match the market performance or slightly under perform Dow Jones in advancing market! 

4) Warren buffet had set a goal of outperforming index by 10% over long run and in most of the years, he made that goal "look" conservative...!

5) From a diversified portfolio, he moved towards loading up around 1965. This worked out handsomely in favour as Amex investment, single handedly helped partnership significantly outperform the index, in spite of lack lustre performance in other two categories

6) When there is no opportunity in sight which fits the criteria set by him he gave it "pass" and chose not to invest. He rather declared his inability to find such opportunities and liquidated the partnership.. a brave call indeed.

I am sure as you read through, you will gain many more insights and it would be immensely helpful to all, if you can share the same through your comments!