By Matt Phillips
It’s no secret that people love reading America’s most-beloved billionaire’s letters to shareholders. But it’s not just because it offers dry insights on Ben Graham’s doctrine of value investing. It’s also because it’s sort of like hanging out with your corny — and sometimes bawdy or scatological — uncle over the holidays. Make that your incredibly rich uncle. Anyway here are some of this year’s quips.
On Country Music:
Sing a country song in reverse, and you will quickly recover your car, house and wife.
On the fact that Berkshire issued stock as part of its BNSF acquisition:
Charlie and I enjoy issuing Berkshire stock about as much as we relish prepping for a colonoscopy.
On the upside potential for its longtime holding Geico:
An old Wall Street joke gets close to our experience:
Customer: Thanks for putting me in XYZ stock at 5. I hear it’s up to 18.
Broker: Yes, and that’s just the beginning. In fact, the company is doing so well now,
that it’s an even better buy at 18 than it was when you made your purchase.
Customer: Damn, I knew I should have waited.
A story on how a once-staid bank Berkshire owned stock in got an acute of deal fever:
Its managers – fine people and able bankers – not unexpectedly began to behave like teenage boys who had just discovered girls.
The small-bank owner was being wooed by other large banks in the state and was holding out for a price close to three times book value. Moreover, he wanted stock, not cash. Naturally, our fellows caved in and agreed to this value-destroying deal. “We need to show that we are in the hunt. Besides, it’s only a small deal,” they said, as if only major harm to shareholders would have been a legitimate reason for holding back. Charlie’s reaction at the time: “Are we supposed to applaud because the dog that fouls our lawn is a Chihuahua rather than a Saint Bernard?”
The seller of the smaller bank – no fool – then delivered one final demand in his negotiations. “After the merger,” he in effect said, perhaps using words that were phrased more diplomatically than these, “I’m going to be a large shareholder of your bank, and it will represent a huge portion of my net worth. You have to promise me, therefore, that you’ll never again do a deal this dumb.”
A closing nod to its massive acquisition of BNSF, in the section on preparations for Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting
Come by rail.Download the 2009 Warren Buffett Letter & 2009 Annual Report to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders
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