Warren Buffett’s 50th annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder discussions included useful tips for individual investors.
1. A stock is never a piece of paper, but a business
Early in the letter Buffett remarks about Berkshire’s intrinsic value, saying that
computing intrinsic value of a business isn’t an exact science.
A stock represents the value of a business’s future earnings. You should own it for that reason, and not because you think you can capitalize on its short-term gyrations, which generally have nothing to do with its business value.
Although they can be crazy in the short term, stock prices are ultimately governed by the profits their underlying businesses generate, and you should treat them that way. (Buffett doesn’t say it in this context, but he has said in the past that market craziness can be a good thing for those who can calculate intrinsic value coolly. Price gyrations provide opportunities to buy at unreasonably low prices and sell at unreasonably high prices.)
2. Stocks protect from inflation in the long term
Buffett noted that in the period from 1964 through 2014, the S&P 500, including dividends, generated a return of more than 11,000%, while over that same period of time, the U.S. dollar DXY lost 87% of its purchasing power, meaning it now costs $1 to buy what in 1965 cost 13¢.
It has been far more profitable to invest in a collection of American businesses for the past 50 years, Buffett considers. And it seems likely that the next 50 years will present the same result.
Remember that in the 1970s U.S. stocks didn’t do well, as inflation was rocketing. But Buffett is clearly correct in arguing that stocks certainly improved the purchasing power of their owners over the half-century period from 1964.
Finally, although stocks may not be priced to deliver outstanding returns at any given moment, Buffett adds the phrase “bought over time” when talking about accumulating stocks. Investors should take that to mean regular periodic investments in stocks will likely turn out fine over a multi-decade period.
3. Volatility is not a risk
Much tolerance should be given to volatility in stocks than in securities tied to U.S. currency. However, it is obvious that securities tied to the value of U.S. currency have presented truer risk to one’s financial well-being over the past half-century.
You will need short-term bonds and cash, if you need money for a home purchase or to fund tuition payments over the next few years. Stocks’ volatility VIX makes them inappropriate for short-term goals.
if you have a long time frame and can make regular investments, then
the risk to your financial well-being is in not owning stocks. So if
you’re relatively young, and you’re contributing to a 401(k), for
example, you’ll do yourself a favor in old age by making contributions
to stocks now and periodically through your life.
4. Use index funds
Buffett is particularly ruthless this year in his discussions of investment bankers, asset managers, and advisers.
He remarks that although there are some excellent money managers
(presumably he’s counting himself), it’s difficult to identify them
ahead of time or know whether their results are due to skill or luck.
Advisers are generally more willing to generate high fees for themselves than returns for their
Thus, Buffett implies indexing is the way to invest, and advises Vanguard founder Jack Bogle’s classic,The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.
4. Think long-term!
Being able to have a longer time horizon allows you to tolerate the volatility that stocks necessarily present, and reap the inflation-beating rewards they deliver.