By Gregory Corcoran
The 2010 annual letter that Warren Buffett pens to shareholders is looked to for as much as its investment acumen as its homespun aphorisms. Both reveal much about the company and the man himself. Here are a few of the best quotes from the latest offering:
Discussing why Berkshire keeps so much cash on hand:
Borrowers then learn that credit is like oxygen. When either is abundant, its presence goes unnoticed. When either is missing, that’s all that is noticed.
“Money will always flow toward opportunity, and there is an abundance of that in America.”
On human potential and the nation’s future
Human potential is far from exhausted, and the American system for unleashing that potential–a system that has worked wonders for over two centuries despite frequent interruptions for recessions and even a Civil War—remains alive and effective.
John Kenneth Galbraith once slyly observed that economists were most economical with ideas: They made the ones learned in graduate school last a lifetime. University finance departments often behave similarly. Witness the tenacity with which almost all clung to the theory of efficient markets throughout the 1970s and 1980s, dismissively calling powerful facts that refuted it “anomalies.” (I always love explanations of that kind: The Flat Earth Society probably views a ship’s circling of the globe as an annoying, but inconsequential, anomaly.)
One footnote: When we issued a press release about Todd [Comb's] joining us, a number of commentators pointed out that he was “little-known” and expressed puzzlement that we didn’t seek a “big-name.” I wonder how many of them would have known of Lou in 1979, Ajit in 1985, or, for that matter, Charlie in 1959. Our goal was to find a 2-year-old Secretariat, not a 10-year-old Seabiscuit. (Whoops–that may not be the smartest metaphor for an 80-year-old CEO to use.)
On hedge funds:
The hedge-fund world has witnessed some terrible behavior by general partners who have
received huge payouts on the upside and who then, when bad results occurred, have walked away rich, with their limited partners losing back their earlier gains. Sometimes these same general partners thereafter quickly started another fund so that they could immediately participate in future profits without having to overcome their past losses. Investors who put money with such managers should be labeled patsies, not partners.
Berkshire and the housing/mortgage crisis:
Our borrowers get in trouble when they lose their jobs, have health problems, get divorced, etc. The recession has hit them hard. But they want to stay in their homes, and generally they borrowed sensible amounts in relation to their income. In addition, we were keeping the originated mortgages for our own account, which means we were not securitizing or otherwise reselling them. If we were stupid in our lending, we were going to pay the price. That concentrates the mind. If home buyers throughout the country had behaved like our buyers, America would not have had the crisis that it did.
On home ownership
Home ownership makes sense for most Americans, particularly at today’s lower prices and bargain interest rates. … But a house can be a nightmare if the buyer’s eyes are bigger than his wallet and if a lender–often protected by a government guarantee–facilitates his fantasy. Our country’s social goal should not be to put families into the house of their dreams, but rather to put them into a house they can afford.
On the worst of the global financial crisis:
As one investor said in 2009: “This is worse than divorce. I’ve lost half my net worth–and I still have my wife.”
In discussing the bazaar that is the coming annual meeting:
Remember: Anyone who says money can’t buy happiness simply hasn’t learned where to shop.
Download the 1977 - 2010 Warren Buffett Letter's to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders
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