Warren Buffett’s Letter to Shareholders 2009

Warren Buffett published his letter to shareholders yesterday. As usual, it is of great interest to anyone interested in the economic, investing and management ideas.

In 1995, MidAmerican became the major provider of electricity in Iowa. By judicious planning and a zeal for efficiency, the company has kept electric prices unchanged since our purchase and has promised to hold them steady through 2013. MidAmerican has maintained this extraordinary price stability while making Iowa number one among all states in the percentage of its generation capacity that comes from wind. Since our purchase, MidAmerican’s Wind-based facilities have grown from zero to almost 20% of total capacity.

Our long-avowed goal is to be the “buyer of choice” for businesses – particularly those built and owned by families. The way to achieve this goal is to deserve it. That means we must keep our promises; avoid leveraging up acquired businesses; grant unusual autonomy to our managers; and hold the purchased companies through thick and thin (though we prefer thick and thicker).

Our record matches our rhetoric. Most buyers competing against us, however, follow a different path. For them, acquisitions are “merchandise.” Before the ink dries on their purchase contracts, these operators are contemplating “exit strategies.” We have a decided advantage, therefore, when we encounter sellers who truly care about the future of their businesses.

Some years back our competitors were known as “leveraged-buyout operators.” But LBO became a
bad name. So in Orwellian fashion, the buyout firms decided to change their moniker. What they did not change, though, were the essential ingredients of their previous operations, including their cherished fee structures and love of leverage. Their new label became “private equity,”

Berkshire Hathaway is a very well run company. Warren Buffett is a great investor. He is also a great executive. He hires honest and able people and lets them do their job. He ensures managers retain constancy of purpose by focusing on the long term and not getting overly focused on quarterly results. And have you ever read an annual report that talks of so many employees with such respect (granted it is a rare situation – something similar in an annual report could well seem disingenuous if it were not Warren Buffett writing)?

Related: 2005 Annual Report from BuffettWarren Buffett’s 2006 Shareholder LetterWarren Buffett Webcast on the Credit CrisisBerkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2008

More gems from Warren Buffett’s letter:

Investors should be skeptical of history-based models. Constructed by a nerdy-sounding priesthood using esoteric terms such as beta, gamma, sigma and the like, these models tend to look impressive. Too often, though, investors forget to examine the assumptions behind the symbols. Our advice: Beware of geeks bearing formulas.

I have pledged – to you, the rating agencies and myself – to always run
Berkshire with more than ample cash. We never want to count on the kindness of strangers in order to meet tomorrow’s obligations. When forced to choose, I will not trade even a night’s sleep for the chance of extra profits.

Derivatives are dangerous. They have dramatically increased the leverage and risks in our financial system. They have made it almost impossible for investors to understand and analyze our largest commercial banks and investment banks. They allowed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to engage in massive misstatements of earnings for years. So indecipherable were Freddie and Fannie that their federal regulator, OFHEO, whose more than 100 employees had no job except the oversight of these two institutions, totally missed their cooking of the books.

The First Law of Corporate Survival for ambitious CEOs who pile on leverage and run large and unfathomable derivatives books: Modest incompetence simply won’t do; it’s mindboggling screw-ups that are required.

We have told you before that our derivative contracts, subject as they are to mark-to-market
accounting, will produce wild swings in the earnings we report. The ups and downs neither cheer nor bother Charlie and me. Indeed, the “downs” can be helpful in that they give us an opportunity to expand a position on favorable terms

2 thoughts on “Warren Buffett’s Letter to Shareholders 2009

  1. Pingback: Warren Buffett on Simulation & Modeling « Quality and Innovation

  2. Pingback: Warren Buffett's Q&A With Shareholders 2009 at Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog

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