Warren Buffet's 2023 Annual letter to shareholders

Apart from being a treasured source of wisdom over the decades, The way Charlie Munger, who recently passed away at 99, and Warren Buffet meticulously share their thoughts at such a ripe age is beyond even the extraordinary.

In the current annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders, The biggest highlight that will probably be used as a historical reference in the many coming decades is the Ode that Waffen Buffet offered to his dear friend Charlie.

Apart from that, Mr. Buffet also shares his interesting insights on their not-so-secret weapon, their realistic goals and so on. Here are some of the key highlights from 2023’s edition.

Charlie Munger – The Architect of Berkshire Hathaway

Here’s the transcript of Mr.Buffets emotional ode to Mr.Munger

Charlie Munger died on November 28, just 33 days before his 100th birthday. Though born and raised in Omaha, he spent 80% of his life domiciled elsewhere. Consequently, it was not until 1959 when he was 35 that I first met him.In 1962, he decided that he should take up money management.

Three years later he told me – correctly! – that I had made a dumb decision in buying control of Berkshire. But, he assured me, since I had already made the move, he would tell me how to correct my mistake.

In what I next relate, bear in mind that Charlie and his family did not have a dime invested in the small investing partnership that I was then managing and whose money I had used for the Berkshire purchase. Moreover, neither of us expected that Charlie would ever own a share of Berkshire stock.

Nevertheless, Charlie, in 1965, promptly advised me: “Warren, forget about ever buying another company like Berkshire. But now that you control Berkshire, add to it wonderful businesses purchased at fair prices and give up buying fair businesses at wonderful prices. In other words, abandon everything you learned from your hero, Ben Graham. It works but only when practiced at small scale.” With much back-sliding I subsequently followed his instructions.

Many years later, Charlie became my partner in running Berkshire and, repeatedly, jerked me back to sanity when my old habits surfaced. Until his death, he continued in this role and together we, along with those who early on invested with us, ended up far better off than Charlie and I had ever dreamed possible.

In reality, Charlie was the “architect” of the present Berkshire, and I acted as the “general contractor” to carry out the day-by-day construction of his vision.

Charlie never sought to take credit for his role as creator but instead, let me take the bows and receive the accolades. In a way, his relationship with me was part older brother, part loving father. Even when he knew he was right, he gave me the reins, and when I blundered he never – never –reminded me of my mistake.

In the physical world, great buildings are linked to their architect while those who had poured the concrete or installed the windows are soon forgotten. Berkshire has become a great company. Though I have long been in charge of the construction crew; Charlie should forever be credited with being the architect.

Our Not-So-Secret Weapon

Occasionally, markets and/or the economy will cause stocks and bonds of some large and fundamentally good businesses to be strikingly mispriced. Indeed, markets can – and will – unpredictably seize up or even vanish as they did for four months in 1914 and for a few days in 2001. If you believe that American investors are now more stable than in the past, think back to September 2008. Speed of communication and the wonders of technology facilitate instant worldwide paralysis, and we have come a long way since smoke signals. Such instant panics won’t happen often – but they will happen.

Berkshire’s ability to immediately respond to market seizures with both huge sums and certainty of performance may offer us an occasional large-scale opportunity. Though the stock market is massively larger than it was in our early years, today’s active participants are neither more emotionally stable nor better taught than when I was in school. For whatever reasons, markets now exhibit far more casino-like behavior than they did when I was young. The casino now resides in many homes and daily tempts the occupants.

One fact of financial life should never be forgotten. Wall Street – to use the term in its figurative sense – would like its customers to make money, but what truly causes its denizens’ juices to flow is feverish activity. At such times, whatever foolishness can be marketed will be vigorously marketed – not by everyone but always by someone.

One investment rule at Berkshire has not and will not change: Never risk permanent loss of capital. Thanks to the American tailwind and the power of compound interest, the arena in which we operate has been – and will be – rewarding if you make a couple of good decisions during a lifetime and avoid serious mistakes.

Our realistic goal is simple

  • Our goal is realistic. Berkshire’s strength comes from its Niagara of diverse earnings delivered after interest costs, taxes and substantial charges for depreciation and amortization (“EBITDA” is a banned measurement at Berkshire).

  • We also operate with minimal requirements for cash, even if the country encounters a prolonged period of global economic weakness, fear and near-paralysis.

Extreme fiscal conservatism

Extreme fiscal conservatism is a corporate pledge we make to those who have joined us in ownership of Berkshire. In most years – indeed in most decades – our caution will likely prove to be unneeded behavior – akin to an insurance policy on a fortress-like building thought to be fireproof. But Berkshire does not want to inflict permanent financial damage – quotational shrinkage for extended periods can’t be avoided – on any of the individuals who have trusted us with their savings.

Berkshire is built to last.

Operating Results, Fact and Fiction

You seek guidance and are told that the procedures for calculating these “earnings” are promulgated by a sober and credentialed Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), mandated by a dedicated and hard-working Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and audited by the world-class professionals at Deloitte & Touche (D&T). On page K-67, D&T pulls no punches: “In our opinion, the financial statements . . . . . present fairly, in all material respects (italics mine), the financial position of the Company . . . . . and the results of its operations . . . . .for each of the three years in the period ended December 31, 2023 . . . . .”

So sanctified, this worse-than-useless “net income” figure quickly gets transmitted throughout the world via the internet and media. All parties believe they have done their job – and, legally, they have.

We, however, are left uncomfortable. At Berkshire, our view is that “earnings” should be a sensible concept that Bertie will find somewhat useful – but only as a starting point – in evaluating a business. Accordingly, Berkshire also reports to Bertie and you what we call “operating earnings.”

The primary difference between the mandated figures and the ones Berkshire prefers is that we exclude unrealized capital gains or losses that at times can exceed $5 billion a day. Ironically, our preference was pretty much the rule until 2018, when the “improvement” was mandated. Galileo’s experience, several centuries ago, should have taught us not to mess with mandates from on high. But, at Berkshire, we can be stubborn.

Mr.Buffet’s thoughts on what investors can learn from his sister, Bertie

In visualizing the owners that Berkshire seeks, I am lucky to have the perfect mental model, my sister, Bertie. Let me introduce her.

For openers, Bertie is smart, wise and likes to challenge my thinking. We have never, however, had a shouting match or anything close to a ruptured relationship. We never will.

Furthermore, Bertie, and her three daughters as well, have a large portion of their savings in Berkshire shares. Their ownership spans decades, and every year Bertie will read what I have to say. My job is to anticipate her questions and give her honest answers.

Bertie, like most of you, understands many accounting terms, but she is not ready for a CPA exam. She follows business news – reading four newspapers daily – but doesn’t consider herself an economic expert. She is sensible – very sensible – instinctively knowing that pundits should always be ignored. After all, if she could reliably predict tomorrow’s winners, would she freely share her valuable insights and thereby increase competitive buying? That would be like finding gold and then handing a map to the neighbors showing its location.

Bertie understands the power – for good or bad – of incentives, the weaknesses of humans, the “tells” that can be recognized when observing human behavior. She knows who is “selling” and who can be trusted. In short, she is nobody’s fool

You may be thinking that she put all of her money in Berkshire and then simply sat on it.

But that’s not true. After starting a family in 1956, Bertie was active financially for 20 years: holding bonds, putting 1⁄3 of her funds in a publicly-held mutual fund and trading stocks with some frequency. Her potential remained unnoticed.

Then, in 1980, when 46, and independent of any urgings from her brother, Bertie decided to make her move. Retaining only the mutual fund and Berkshire, she made no new trades during the next 43 years. During that period, she became very rich, even after making large philanthropic gifts (think nine figures).

Millions of American investors could have followed her reasoning which involved only the common sense she had somehow absorbed as a child in Omaha. And, taking no chances, Bertie returns to Omaha every May to be re-energized.