Parsing the Essential Details of Warren Buffett’s 2018 Letter to Shareholders

In this &#8220What&#8217s Up, Bro&#8221 section from the episode of Motley Idiot Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp &#8212 with some help from Scott Phillips of The Motley Fool Australia &#8212 contemplate the most exciting takeaways from Warren Buffett&#8217s newest letter to Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) shareholders.
Adhering to his tips may possibly not make you a billionaire, but his reflections on the nature of threat, asset allocation, when to get, financial debt, and acquiring on margin need to manual you toward the future you&#8217re attempting to attain by investing.
A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on March 6, 2018.
Scott Phillips: What&#8217s up, Bro?
Robert Brokamp: Nicely, there&#8217s this man in Omaha who writes a letter. Sure, so Warren Buffett&#8217s once-a-year letter, highly predicted each 12 months, came out toward the conclude of February. It&#8217s a lot of pages lengthy, but I arrived absent with 4 takeaways that are type of monetary organizing, investing associated. I&#8217m certain, Scott, you have some views. But I&#8217ll start off with No. 1 and that is the wind is at buyers&#8217 backs and for two causes.
The opening paragraph of the letter has been basically adhering to the identical structure for thirty several years. Just the numbers alter. It starts this 12 months with Berkshire&#8217s acquire in internet well worth for the duration of 2017 was $ sixty five.3 billion. However, in the following paragraph he factors out that only $ 36 billion of that came from operations. The other $ 29 billion just arrived simply because of the new tax regulation. A good deal of buyers have been contemplating [about the new modifications in tax regulation] &#8212 which among other things reduced the tax prices for companies &#8212 and how that is heading to have an effect on my investments.
Buffett addresses it right out of the gate in the letter and claims that essentially it practically doubles the volume that they can lead to their development in net well worth. And that&#8217s just the beginning. Several firms are likely to see the identical form of boost to their base traces since of the new tax law, so that&#8217s one particular way that buyers have the wind at their backs. He didn&#8217t use that phrase conversing about taxes, but he did use that phrase in an additional context. That is a recurring theme with Buffett.
He pointed out that he and his partner, Charlie Munger, don&#8217t look at their stocks as tickers that you acquire and market based on what a pundit suggests, or no matter whether it&#8217s up or down, or what the market place is undertaking over the 1st couple of months of the 12 months, like in this 12 months where the market place has been struggling significant volatility. They see it as essentially currently being associates in prolonged-time period organizations. He mentioned that is essentially the wind at the back again as a typical fairness trader in The united states.
Now, I presume in Australia, you form of feel the identical way in that over the extended time period, evidently when you look at it you&#8217ve obtained the wind at your back again.
Phillips: Indeed, you&#8217ve received it, Bro. The Australian market &#8212 Australia is variety of like The united states&#8217s tiny brother. Joe Magyer, our colleague, who some of your listeners may know was here as effectively, this week, and he was speaking about the truth that The united states and Australia, we&#8217re type of cousins. We had the same father or mother in the U.K. way again in the working day. You men independently a little far more violently than we did, but in any situation, variety of identical idea. So, we are really equivalent as an financial system, as individuals, as markets. Absolutely. I like to call it democratic capitalism and the power of that is just incredible. We have really a lot the identical kind of techniques and legal guidelines in entrepreneurship that you men have, here.
Brokamp: Right. That delivers us to No. 2 and that is bonds are truly riskier than stocks when you search in excess of the prolonged phrase. And there are various ways to outline danger. Buffett in the letter described it as &#8220investing is an action in which intake right now is foregone in an try to let for better intake at a afterwards date. &#8216Risk&#8217 is the probability that this goal won&#8217t be attained.’&#8221
And he mentioned if that is your definition of risk, investing in so-referred to as risk-free bonds is in fact not likely to get you to where you want to be, mainly thanks to quite minimal returns, as nicely as the decline of purchasing electrical power during inflation. Definitely, in any presented year, as he points out, the stock marketplace is riskier than bonds, but if you&#8217re searching at it in excess of a longer time frame, it&#8217s really riskier to be in bonds, due to the fact you&#8217re not going to be ready to satisfy your aim.
He pointed out in his letter that above all of the 43 ten-year keeping durations considering that he&#8217s been in demand of Berkshire given that 1965, in all of people ten-year periods, the marketplace has been up more than it has been down. That does not mean, by the way, that more than all people ten-12 months intervals the S&#038P 500 has produced money, and there have been a couple in which it&#8217s dropped funds and those are in fact reasonably recent periods that ended in 2008 and 2009. There have been numerous the place when you seem more than a 10-12 months period, the annualized returns have been in the minimal single digits, so it&#8217s not been excellent, but above the lengthy span of historical past, when you search at ten many years or lengthier, you&#8217re more probably to make funds than not.
Alison Southwick: No. three.
Brokamp: No. 3. You may well get that to conclude that you should put all your income in the inventory marketplace. All in. But actually, that&#8217s not Warren Buffett&#8217s guidance. At the finish of 2017, Berkshire held $ 116 billion in cash and U.S. Treasury charges which is up from $ 86 billion at the conclude of last year. Actually, they&#8217re constructing up their funds hoard. Why is that? On the 1 hand he&#8217s declaring it&#8217s silly to be investing in these low-returning, fastened-cash flow investments. On the other hand, they keep developing up this massive pile of funds.
There are two reasons for that. One particular of them is in the letter Buffett claims it makes perception to buy stocks at the proper charges. In the letter he basically stated we can’t find bargains at this position. All the deals they looked at last 12 months &#8212 the charges were just as well higher. They&#8217re inclined to sit on income and hold out for greater prices.
And then the other element is fundamentally an unexpected emergency fund, and he cited the fact that in 2008 and 2009, when many people were panicking, even some of the largest banking companies had been obtaining a person to lend them funds since they had these kinds of a income crunch. Berkshire was in a position to say, &#8220OK, we&#8217ll lend you cash&#8221 because they experienced the money, and they want to be in that placement, so some sort of macroeconomic event isn&#8217t going to cause them to go begging to a financial institution.
But it&#8217s also crucial to don’t forget that Berkshire is mainly an insurance coverage organization. Buffett believed in the letter that in any offered year, there&#8217s a two% possibility that there could be a mega catastrophe that expenses $ four hundred billion dollars. To place that in context, he believed that the hurricanes from last calendar year that influenced Texas, Puerto Rico, and Florida value $ a hundred billion. So, he&#8217s declaring there&#8217s a two% likelihood in any offered yr that we could experience a disaster four moments as high-priced, but because Berkshire&#8217s an insurance coverage business, they have to have that money on hand to protect people statements.
He explained in other places that he thinks most individuals ought to have about 10% of their belongings in Treasuries. That&#8217s what he truly lays out for his spouse in his will if he dies ahead of her &#8212 that 10% of her funds should be in quick-phrase Treasuries.
Southwick: And Bro&#8217s last takeaway.
Brokamp: And the closing takeaway is to keep away from financial debt. He talks about it 1st of all again so that you don&#8217t have to go crawling to the financial institutions. But also, you ought to not be borrowing income to spend, which is generally getting shares on margin. I provide this up since that&#8217s one of the attainable causes why we&#8217ve witnessed volatility this 12 months. It&#8217s what happens when you borrow cash to purchase stocks.
When the stock goes down, the broker [possibly A, asks you for a lot more funds or B, sells your holdings]. It&#8217s a bit of a snowball. He hugely suggests that you don&#8217t do that, and he cites four illustrations of exactly where Berkshire&#8217s stock dropped about fifty% through his historical past. You by no means know when that&#8217s heading to happen.
The irony of this is that in accordance to FINRA, margin financial debt is at the greatest amount it&#8217s ever been. Almost two-thirds of $ 1 trillion has been borrowed to buy stocks. It&#8217s a potential risk for several of these folks, but it&#8217s a likely risk for all of us. To the diploma that margin financial debt is triggering some of this volatility, we could see far more of it in the long term.
Southwick: You&#8217re declaring margin debt for individuals, but I envision it&#8217s mainly establishments. Or is it mainly individuals?
Brokamp: That&#8217s a great concern. I don&#8217t know how it breaks down, but there&#8217s no query that there are a lot of men and women out there borrowing funds to make investments.
Southwick: Terrifying.
Brokamp: Very scary.
Phillips: Oh, and people industry positions, too, in which you see that happen. The higher the market place goes, the a lot more men and women pile into leverage, which is specifically the wrong issue to be undertaking. We discuss about currently being contrarian traders or, to Bro&#8217s point, generating positive you find good benefit ahead of you buy. As the market place goes up, the optimism requires off. The exuberance takes off, so they&#8217ll borrow more because the shares are larger. They&#8217ll borrow much more due to the fact shares are larger, and they borrow far more, and then shares are decrease.
And to Bro&#8217s point, when it falls 50%, the lender will come knocking. You could get rid of properly all your equity or a extremely large chunk of what you commenced with just simply because you chased the industry. Optimistic exuberance does tend to correlate with increased share charges, which ironically, to throw out a Buffetism, you want to be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when other folks are greedy. Margin debtors have a tendency to get greedy when people are greedy, and that&#8217s precisely the improper way to go about it.
Brokamp: Proper.
Southwick: Buffett mentioned in his letter that the wind is at investors&#8217 backs, which implies it&#8217s a good time to be an trader. Is that basically what he&#8217s stating? If we&#8217re using the greedy when fearful, fearful when greedy, at some stage he requirements to say that the wind is not at our backs, but he in no way does.
Brokamp: I feel there&#8217s a bit of a contradiction in the letter. He&#8217s declaring we can not uncover deals, so we are not likely to commit.
Southwick: But the wind&#8217s at our back again.
Brokamp: Correct. On the other hand, he needs the common investor to just keep holding on via the ups and downs, and I think that, in the end, is the difference when you are a Buffett who has demonstrated the capacity to deploy cash in a sensible way. Be content sitting on money when you can&#8217t uncover a bargain and then be gutsy adequate to deploy it when bargains abound. Like in 2008 and 2009 for the individuals who ended up gutsy to be getting shares back then, as opposed to pulling income out of the industry makes overall sense. But I believe what he&#8217s saying is for the average investor, don&#8217t consider to do that. Purchase stocks progressively with your 401(k) or what ever and just keep on for the prolonged term.
Phillips: That&#8217s it, Bro. If you can be Buffett, be Buffett. If you can&#8217t, greenback-value regular, because it&#8217s variety of the subsequent very best issue.
Brokamp: Correct.
Southwick: And guess what? You can&#8217t be Buffett. Maybe you can be David Gardner. If you&#8217re David Gardner.
Brokamp: By the way, I&#8217m a Berkshire shareholder&#8230
Phillips: As am I for this query.
Brokamp: And in excess of the previous 5 or 10 years it&#8217s been about the exact same as the market place which, when you believe of that, that&#8217s not an great investment. Not a terrible expense. When you seem at the truth that he&#8217s nevertheless sitting on so much cash and nevertheless matching the market place or marginally beating it, that&#8217s quite amazing.
Phillips: About a quarter of the company&#8217s marketplace cap is now in funds, so he&#8217s generally working one.5 moments as quickly to preserve up at a organization amount due to the fact of all that income.
Southwick: But we talked about this in very last 7 days&#8217s episode &#8212 about the danger of keeping in money so heavily.
Brokamp: Correct. Effectively, I believed about that. I&#8217m sure someone appeared at it and said, &#8220What if Buffett, each time he couldn&#8217t uncover specific bargains, just utilized some of his income for an S&#038P five hundred index fund and then offered the index fund if he located a deal.&#8221 Simply because of the insurance business aspect, he does have to have a lot of money on hand. I&#8217d be curious what those returns would seem like, but he&#8217s content to sit there and have so significantly in money ready for a reliable discount.
Southwick: I&#8217m also curious about what percentage of his returns come from what resources. Since if you search at the actual companies that Berkshire Hathaway owns, it&#8217s like Dairy Queen? Brooks Working?
Brokamp: Fruit of the Loom.
Southwick: See&#8217s Candies. Are you out of your brain?
Phillips: Yeah. The Oriental Investing Company.
Southwick: Like Oriental Buying and selling Company? I&#8217m sorry. I wouldn&#8217t invest in these firms, but they demonstrate them off at the shareholders&#8217 assembly, and it&#8217s variety of enjoyable, I guess, to have genuine merchandise there.
Phillips: I may possibly perhaps have a pair of Brooks with Warren Buffett&#8217s face on them.
Southwick: Which I would eliminate&#8230 I believe Mike Olsen has like a little managing jacket from the Warren Buffett 5K that they do.
Phillips: There you go.
Southwick: I&#8217m like, &#8220I would murder you for that jacket.&#8221 It&#8217s so adorable. It&#8217s got this minor cartoon of Warren Buffett on it. Ach! So cute. The letter gets so considerably interest when it comes out. And generally I truly feel in the previous we&#8217ve had far more definitive takeaways, whereas this letter, at least from listening to your just take on it, [has me] scratching my noggin. I guess it isn&#8217t a barnstormer of a letter this calendar year for me.
Brokamp: I would say that it is specifically very good reading offered what we&#8217ve noticed in the industry this year. As we communicate today, it&#8217s the second day of March and the Dow is already down like 800 details so considerably this month. In scenarios like that, if you&#8217re obtaining anxious it&#8217s a great letter to read through, each in phrases of sensation relaxed about the lengthy time period, but also feeling cozy with probably obtaining a small little bit of cash on the aspect.
Phillips: I&#8217ve obtained to say that for any investor who&#8217s marginally new to getting far better at investing, start off with Buffett&#8217s consolidated letters, regardless of whether you buy the e-book and read the letters, on their own. Give your self an education and learning. That&#8217s how you discover this things. Following that it&#8217s kind of like likely to church.
Brokamp: That is so accurate.
Phillips: Read the letter or go to the annual assembly. I&#8217ve carried out both a couple of moments. It&#8217s the preacher up entrance stating, &#8220Now don&#8217t fail to remember.&#8221 Like this is the point. Like, &#8220Yeah, yeah, we know, we know.&#8221 In a good way. In the sense that occasionally it just will help. You wander away from individuals meetings, walk absent from his letters heading, &#8220That&#8217s why I bear in mind that thing.&#8221
Buffett&#8217s line &#8212 he talks about leveraging in one certain part and Bro&#8217s currently touched on that and he uses a variation of this quote every single time, but he says [and Charlie Munger] that each of us feel it is crazy to threat what you have and want in order to get what you don&#8217t require. It&#8217s fairly widespread-sense logic, proper? And then out there somewhere else &#8212 was it two-thirds of $ one trillion, Bro, in margin financial loans. And so, we know that&#8217s proper. And to hear that again and once more, it&#8217s like, &#8220OK, Alright. Great position, great point.&#8221 When I truly feel like I&#8217m starting up to consider perhaps that 1 tends to make sense. Possibly I should go and get a flyer or danger over listed here. But no, just bear in mind that at the front pew of the church, the preacher is pointing at you declaring, &#8220You know? Carry your match. That&#8217s variety of the tale.&#8221
Brokamp: Amen.
Southwick: You two are heading to start off heading doorway to door saying, &#8220Excuse me, ma&#8217am. Do you have time to hear about the very good tale of Warren Buffett?&#8221
Phillips: This is Brother Boomerang and Brother Bro.
Southwick: You&#8217ll get far with that accent, though.
Phillips: We are listed here to show you&#8230
Southwick: Don&#8217t underestimate his accent.
Brokamp: Absolutely. I&#8217ll just be the fairly experience. You do all the conversing.
Phillips: The Gospel of Warren.
Brokamp: If you discover a quite encounter, we&#8217re in problems.