Warren Buffett Tells Shareholders He Did "Some Dumb Things" In 2008
This debilitating spiral has spurred our government to take massive action. In poker terms, the Treasury and the Fed have gone “all in.” Economic medicine that was previously meted out by the cupful has recently been dispensed by the barrel.
These once-unthinkable dosages will almost certainly bring on unwelcome aftereffects. Their precise nature is anyone’s guess, though one likely consequence is an onslaught of inflation. Moreover, major industries have become dependent on Federal assistance, and they will be followed by cities and states bearing mind-boggling requests. Weaning these entities from the public teat will be a political challenge. They won’t leave willingly.
Whatever the downsides may be, strong and immediate action by government was essential last year if the financial system was to avoid a total breakdown. Had that occurred, the consequences for every area of our economy would have been cataclysmic. Like it or not, the inhabitants of Wall Street, Main Street and the various Side Streets of America were all in the same boat.
"PESSIMISM IS YOUR FRIEND"
Berkshire is always a buyer of both businesses and securities, and the disarray in markets gave us a tailwind in our purchases. When investing, pessimism is your friend, euphoria the enemy. In our insurance portfolios, we made three large investments on terms that would be unavailable in normal markets.
BERKSHIRE'S TWO "YARDSTICKS"
Berkshire has two major areas of value. The first is our investments: stocks, bonds and cash equivalents... Berkshire’s second component of value is earnings that come from sources other than investments and insurance...
In 2008, our investments fell from $90,343 per share of Berkshire (after minority interest) to $77,793, a decrease that was caused by a decline in market prices, not by net sales of stocks or bonds. Our second segment of value fell from pre-tax earnings of $4,093 per Berkshire share to $3,921 (again after minority interest).
Both of these performances are unsatisfactory. Over time, we need to make decent gains in each area if we are to increase Berkshire’s intrinsic value at an acceptable rate. Going forward, however, our focus will be on the earnings segment, just as it has been for several decades. We like buying underpriced securities, but we like buying fairly-priced operating businesses even more.
LESSONS FROM THE HOUSING MESS
EXCERPT: BUFFETT'S LESSONS FROM THE HOUSING MESS
Home ownership is a wonderful thing. My family and I have enjoyed my present home for 50 years, with more to come. But enjoyment and utility should be the primary motives for purchase, not profit or refi possibilities. And the home purchased ought to fit the income of the purchaser.
The present housing debacle should teach home buyers, lenders, brokers and government some simple lessons that will ensure stability in the future. Home purchases should involve an honest-to-God down payment of at least 10% and monthly payments that can be comfortably handled by the borrower’s income. That income should be carefully verified.
Putting people into homes, though a desirable goal, shouldn’t be our country’s primary objective. Keeping them in their homes should be the ambition.
WHY PREMIUMS FOR TAX-EXEMPT BOND INSURANCE HAVE BEEN TOO LOW
Early in 2008, we activated Berkshire Hathaway Assurance Company (“BHAC”) as an insurer of the tax-exempt bonds issued by states, cities and other local entities...
We remain very cautious about the business we write and regard it as far from a sure thing that this insurance will ultimately be profitable for us. The reason is simple, though I have never seen even a passing reference to it by any financial analyst, rating agency or monoline CEO.