Buffett Bullish About Future, Admits Mistakes


Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders is much anticipated by his followers around the world. It is almost as carefully read as this blog… I said ALMOST!

In case you missed it, here are pearls of wisdom from the letter, extracted for your reading pleasure, as summarised by our friends at SmartCompany.

The successor question has been answered, at least internally

Buffett is not naming names, but he has revealed that Berkshire Hathaway does have his replacement picked.

Buffett’s still hungry for a big deal

Last year, Buffett warned his “elephant gun” was loaded looking for a big acquisition. That hasn’t changed.  “Over time, the businesses we currently own should increase their aggregate earnings, and we hope also to purchase some large operations that will give us a further boost. We now have eight subsidiaries that would each be included in the Fortune 500 were they stand-alone companies. That leaves only 492 to go. My task is clear, and I’m on the prowl.”

Buffett’s big bet remains on the US economy – and it’s already paying off

When Buffett bought railway group Burlington National in November 2009, he described it as an all-in bet on the US economy. And despite the fact the US looks weak, Buffett’s American businesses are performing well.  “Our major businesses did well last year. Unless the economy weakens in 2012, each of our fabulous five should again set a record, with aggregate earnings comfortably topping $10 billion.”

A one man economic stimulator

Buffett can’t keep the US economy going by himself, but it’s clear Berkshire is having a crack through the way it spends.  “In total, our entire string of operating companies spent $8.2 billion for property, plant and equipment in 2011, smashing our previous record by more than $2 billion.”

Berkshire Hathaway has its own “big four”

Forget the Australian banks, there is a new “big four” in town – Coca-Cola (Berkshire has a 8.8% stake), IBM (5.5% stake), Wells Fargo (7.6% stake) and American Express (13% stake). These are the rocks on which the company’s portfolio will be built.  “A decade from now, our current holdings of the four companies might well account for earnings of $7 billion, of which $2 billion in dividends would come to us.”

Buffett was wrong on the housing market…

As usual, Buffett used his letter to fess up to some dud calls, including an investment in a Texas gas company which was “a major unforced error”. But his biggest dud call was on one of the key sectors in the US.  “Last year, I told you that “a housing recovery will probably begin within a year or so.” I was dead wrong.

…but hormones mean he’ll eventually be right

But he still contends housing will bounce back for a simple reason – hormones will eventually create new demand for housing.  “That devastating supply/demand equation is now reversed: Every day we are creating more households than housing units. People may postpone hitching up during uncertain times, but eventually hormones take over.

Why Buffett is slow to sell underperforming companies

Buffett admits that several companies in his manufacturing division are underperforming, and takes the blame for being the person who over-estimated their long-term prospects. But he won’t hear of dumping them because of what he says is a commitment he made.

How one of Berkshire’s subsidiaries bounced back from the Japanese tsunami

Berkshire’s cutting tool company Iscar (it owns 80%) bounced back from its own little disaster in 2011, when a company Iscar owns called Tungaloy suffered damage in the tsunami that hit Japan in early 2011.

America’s most prolific investor and corporate mogul always has great wisdom to share, and it is equally refreshing to recognise that sometimes even The Buff gets it wrong.  Gives us all hope, doesn’t  it?


Yours in PR

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