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Collection: Warren Buffett - #170 'What is Value Investing?'



Good morning, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger.

My name is Steve Yates (PH), I’m from Chicago. I’m a Berkshire shareholder and this is my sixth year coming to this meeting. I’d like to thank you for all your time and advice through the years. It’s been great.

I’d also like to thank all those wonderful people who sold Berkshire this year for giving us an opportunity to purchase more of the world’s greatest company for dirt-cheap prices. (Applause)


We will convey your thanks. (Laughter)


I own another stock, which sells for four times current trailing earnings. Every quarter we get a report. Earnings go up, sales go up, cash flow goes up, the equity base expands, they gain market share, and the stock goes down.

The company has a 60 percent five-year annualized growth rate and sells at four times earnings. I have two related questions.

First, is this is a growth stock or a value stock, and could you please give us your definitions of these terms?

Second, the company sells recreational vehicles. Demographic trends in the recreation and leisure areas, RVs, cruise lines, golf equipment, et cetera, seem to be quite good. Do you see any opportunities for Berkshire here? Thanks.


Well, the question about growth and value, we’ve addressed in past annual reports. But they are not two distinct categories of business. Every business is worth the present —

If you knew what it was going to be able to disgorge in cash between now and Judgment Day, you could come to a precise figure as to what it is worth today.

Now, elements of that can be the ability to use additional capital at good rates, and most growth companies that are characterized as growth companies have that as a characteristic.

But there is no distinction in our minds between growth and value. Every business we look at as being a value proposition. The potential for growth and the likelihood of good economics being attached to that growth are part of the equation in evaluation.

But they’re all value decisions. A company that pays no dividends growing a hundred percent a year, you know, is losing money. Now, that’s a value decision. You have to decide how much value you’re going to get.

Actually, it’s very simple. The first investment primer, when would you guess it was written?

The first investment primer that I know of, and it was pretty good advice, was delivered in about 600 B.C. by Aesop. And Aesop, you’ll remember, said, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Now incidentally, Aesop did not know it was 600 BC. He was smart, but he wasn’t that smart. (Laughter)

Now, Aesop was onto something, but he didn’t finish it, because there’s a couple of other questions that go along with that.

But it is an investment equation, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. He forgot to say exactly when you were going to get the two in the — from the bush — and he forgot to say what interest rates were that you had to measure this against.

But if he’d given those two factors, he would have defined investment for the next 2,600 years. Because a bird in the hand is — you know, you will trade a bird in the hand, which is investing. You lay out cash today.

And then the question is, as an investment decision, you have to evaluate how many birds are in the bush. You may think there are two birds in the bush, or three birds in the bush, and you have to decide when they’re going to come out, and when you’re going to acquire them.

Now, if interest rates are five percent, and you’re going to get two birds from the bush in five years, we’ll say, versus one now, two birds in the bush are much better than a bird in the hand now.

So you want to trade your bird in the hand and say, “I’ll take two birds in the bush,” because if you’re going to get them in five years, that’s roughly 14 percent compounded annually and interest rates are only five percent.

But if interest rates were 20 percent, you would decline to take two birds in the bush five years from now. You would say that’s not good enough, because at 20 percent, if I just keep this bird in my hand and compound it, I’ll have more birds than two birds in the bush in five years.

Now, what’s all that got to do with growth? Well, usually growth, people associate with a lot more birds in the bush, but you still have to decide when you’re going to get them.

And you have to measure that against interest rates, and you have to measure it against other bushes, and other, you know, other equations.

And that’s all investing is. It’s a value decision based on, you know, what it is worth, how many birds are in that bush, when you’re going to get them, and what interest rates are.

Now, if you pay $500 billion — and when we buy a stock, we always think in terms of buying the whole enterprise, because it enables us to think as businessmen, rather than as stock speculators.

So let’s just take a company that has marvelous prospects, is paying you nothing now, and you buy it at a valuation of $500 billion.

Now, if you feel that 10 percent is the appropriate rate of return — and you can pick your figure — that means that if it pays you nothing this year, but starts paying next year, it has to be able to pay you $55 billion in perpetuity, each year.

But if it’s not going to pay until the third year, then it has to pay you $60.5 billion in perpetuity — in perpetuity — to justify the present price.

Every year that you wait to take a bird out of the bush means that you have to take out more birds. It’s that simple.

And I question, in my mind, whether — sometimes, whether people who pay $500 billion implicitly for a business by buying 10 shares of stock at some price, are really thinking of the mathematical — the mathematics — implicit in what they are doing.

To deliver, let’s just assume that’s — there’s only going to be a one-year delay before the business starts paying out to you, and you want to get a 10 percent return and you pay $500 billion. That means $55 billion of cash that they have to be able to disgorge to you year, after year, after year.

To do that, they have to make perhaps $80 billion, or close to it, pretax.

Now, you might look around at the universe of businesses in this world and see how many are earning 80 billion pretax, or 70, or 60, or 50, or 40, or 30. And you won’t find any.

So it requires a rather extraordinary change in profitability to give you enough birds out of that particular bush to make it worthwhile to give up the one that you have in your hand.

Second part of your question, about whether we’d be willing to buy a wonderful business at four times earnings, I think I could get even Charlie interested in that. But let’s hear it from Charlie.


I’d like to know what that is. (Laughter)


He was hoping you would ask that. That fellow that’s got all his net worth in this stock — (Laughter) — and who has a captive audience.

Tell us what it is. You’ve got to tell us. We’re begging you. (Laughter)


You want the name of the company?


We want the name of the company. We’re dying to get the name. Wait till I get my pencil out. (Laughter)


It’s called National RV, and it’s based in California, and they sell recreational vehicles.


OK, well, you’ve got a crowd of people with — who have birds in the hand, and we will see what they do — (Laughter) — in terms of National RV.

Charlie, do you have anything further on growth and value, et cetera?

Watch him carefully, folks. (Laughter)


Well, I agree that all intelligent investing is value investing. You have to acquire more than you really pay for, and that’s a value judgment. But you can look for more than you’re paying for in a lot of different ways.

You can use filters to sift the investment universe. And if you stick with stocks that can’t possibly be wonderful to just put away in your safe deposit box for 40 years, but are underpriced, then you have to keep moving around all the time.

As they get closer to what you think the real value is, you have to sell them, and then find others. And so, it’s an active kind of investing.

The investing where you find a few great companies and just sit on your ass because you’ve correctly predicted the future, that is what it’s very nice to be good at.


The movie was G-rated even though — (Laughter) Is that it, Charlie? (Laughter) OK. We will move to area 2.


~ Please visit the site above for full video of Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting.


[YAPSS Takeaway]

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” by Aesop, it might not be true when time and interest rate is added into the equation.

It's true, if the TIME to get two birds in the bush is 5 YEARS and the *CURRENT INTEREST RATE is at 20%*.

- Because getting two birds in 5 years is roughly 14% compounded annually and if interest rate now is at 20%, getting one bird on hand now (20%) is worth more than getting two in the bush (14%) in 5 years.

It's NOT true if the TIME to get two birds in the bush is 5 YEARS and the *CURRENT INTEREST RATE is at 5%*.

- Because getting two birds in 5 years is roughly 14% compounded annually and hence, getting two birds in the bush (14%) is more valuable than getting one bird on hand now (5%).

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