Mad Money

Cramer's takeaways from Warren Buffett's Google mistake

Learning from Buffett's Google gaffe

When Warren Buffett told Berkshire Hathaway shareholders on Saturday that he made a mistake not investing in Alphabet's Google, Jim Cramer reeled at the legendary investor's admission.

"It finally happened! A money manager came on television and admitted that he had made a mistake, that he had an obvious win on his hands and he punted, he didn't take advantage of it," the "Mad Money" host said. "That's the good news. Accountability at last."

The bad news was that it happened to be one of the most successful money managers of our time.

"Maybe the takeaway is that only the world's greatest investor can afford to openly admit making a mistake. Everyone else just must be too insecure to do the same thing," Cramer said.

Watch the full segment here:

Cramer's takeaways from Warren Buffett's Google mistake

Buffett's self-proclaimed flubs aside, Cramer touted the investment guru's legacy, from buying into best-of-breed companies trading at discounts to his unrelenting optimism about the future of the United States.

"He's genuinely curious; he's skeptical without being cynical; and despite his folksy demeanor, he doesn't suffer fools gladly, which is why he's willing to make harsh judgments if a CEO's got it wrong," as he did with former Wells Fargo chief John Stumpf.

All that said, Buffett's statements about his Google miss intrigued Cramer. Buffett admitted that he realized the value of Google early, when Berkshire's auto insurance subsidiary, GEICO, was seeking advertising outlets.

Buffett understood the power of Google's advertising business even then. People who wanted to buy insurance quickly would search it via Google for instant gratification.

"He admitted that he recognized Google's cost of taking that ad was virtually nil, that it represented nearly 100 percent profit. He even met with the founders of Google," Cramer said.

Still, Buffett did not pull the trigger on buying shares, which he attributed in part to being unsure who would ultimately win in the advertising space. Back then, Google, now Alphabet, traded at $300 a share and has since soared to $950.

"What can we learn from this mistake? First, we have to recognize a humbling, humbling thing: stock picking is really difficult. Few people would've had the kind of insight that Buffett had about Google, and yet he didn't buy it," Cramer said.

Buffett later purchased shares of IBM, a move he would come to see as preemptive because the company's promising technologies did not grow as quickly as he expected.

"When you put Buffett's IBM pick alongside his failure to pull the trigger on Google, you have to conclude that nobody in this business gets it right all the time. If even the 'Oracle of Omaha' can make this kind of mistake, then you can understand why I'm so adamant that you keep your retirement money in a low-cost index fund that mirrors the S&P 500," Cramer said.

The S&P 500 sidelines the worst companies and benefits from takeover activity, so investing in a low-cost fund like the Buffet-praised Vanguard would be a smart move, Cramer said.

"How about takeaway number two? Once you have your bedrock index fund investment and you keep adding to that every year, if you do have some spare cash, why not try to put it to work in some stocks that you can find yourself?" the "Mad Money" host asked.

The best example of this in Buffett's world was his call on Apple. When he saw younger generations glued to their Apple devices, he began to see it not as a technology company, but as a consumer products powerhouse that sold at a major discount to the other consumer goods plays.

Even now, measured against similarly structured companies, Apple remains very cheap, Cramer argued.

Cramer's final takeaway was that keeping your eyes open is key to picking and buying the right companies at the right time.

"I could argue that Google itself, now that it's expanding beyond just search into YouTube video, data centers, [and] self-driving cars — that may be a big bargain given the misperception that it's still merely a search play hostage to the advertising market," the "Mad Money" host said.

And while Cramer does not recommend simply piling your favorite companies into a portfolio and hoping things work out, there is much to be said about playing the field like Buffett does.

"If you want to augment your index fund with a few stock picks of your own, I think that's a totally responsible and, frankly, thrilling way to try your hand at growing wealth beyond the ordinary, even if the ordinary has done pretty darned well all by itself," Cramer said.

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