Jump to content

Buffett AGM Comments


Nomad
 Share

Recommended Posts

I just finished watching the Berkshire AGM livestream. My overall takeaway is that Buffett is very cautious, if not outright bearish, on the near-term prospects of the stock market. Some highlights below (mistakes and omissions are my own):

 

  • WEB sees the US currently at "DEFCON 5" on the health impact of the coronavirus but only at "DEFCON 1" on the economic and market impact - seemed surprised by the disconnect
  • Range of possible outcomes on the economic side is still "extraordinarily wide"
  • Pointed out that the Dow fell from 381.17 on 1929-09-03 to 198.69 on 1929-11-13, but rose to 240.42 by 1930-08-29 - it was "not apparent" by the summer of 1930 that the US would enter the Great Depression
  • Mentioned the lasting psychological impact of the Great Depression - two lost decades in stocks before the market went back to even in nominal terms
  • WEB: "You can bet on America, but you have to be careful in how you bet."
  • You will do fine if you buy an index and hold for "20 to 30 years"
  • $6b in Berkshire net equity sales in April, all airline positions liquidated
  • On overcapacity in airline industry - there are "too many planes"
  • Unlike 2008, Berkshire has not acted as a lender of last resort because WEB "hasn't seen anything attractive"
  • WEB: Companies were able to get money from the Fed in 2020 "on terms we wouldn't have given them"
  • Sees possible permanent impairment in commercial real estate due to work from home programs
  • Believes there could be "extreme consequences" from abnormally low or negative interest rates
  • Did not buy back Berkshire stock because he did not see BRK at a discount to intrinsic value

 

Overall, some very interesting comments by Buffett and Greg Abel about the challenges currently facing the country and Berkshire's operating businesses as the pandemic persists.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 77
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

I also think he is more bearish than usual. I’ll add that he stated that it’s a mistake to see the 125B in cash as 40% of funds, since even though we have 180B invested in public entities, there’s more invested in wholly owned businesses.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was my favorite annual meeting. I wasn't sure how much clarity he would give us into his thoughts, but I thought he shared the perfect amount. This is one of the most unusual times in our history, and this just adds to the list of people who describe this situation in a unique way. I found his heavy emphasis on the great depression very interesting. It seemed like a way of saying, "be extremely careful, buying this rise could be like buying right before the rise going into the depression." It had a very somber tone to the meeting, but was very illuminating on how well he can think through a range of possibilities. He's the GOAT, and I will forever be grateful for all of the wisdom he's shared. Always great seeing Whitney Tilson ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I liked this annual meeting too Less frills, more substance.

 

I also noticed how long he dwelled on the Great Recession. And while he said, “Don’t bet against America, he didn’t bet on American stocks either. As always, watch what they do more so than what they say. In Buffets case it’s actually quite congruent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That was much better than expected. He sounded well and sharp, questions were well selected, we even got one from Bill Murray.

 

I too heard a lot of bearish dog whistle. Especially that remark about him not wanting to talk about certain scenarios because he thinks he might increase the probability of them materializing if he does...

 

Meanwhile many of the media headlines are (predictably) upbeat:

 

- WSJ: Warren Buffett Says ‘American Magic’ to Overcome Virus Uncertainty

- CNBC: Buffett says economy will beat virus: ‘Nothing can basically stop America’

- USA Today: Buffett tells investors to 'Bet on America,' buying stocks for long-term gain

 

The market reaction to this should be fun to watch.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That was much better than expected. He sounded well and sharp, questions were well selected, we even got one from Bill Murray.

 

I too heard a lot of bearish dog whistle. Especially that remark about him not wanting to talk about certain scenarios because he thinks he might increase the probability of them materializing if he does...

 

Meanwhile many of the media headlines are (predictably) upbeat:

 

- WSJ: Warren Buffett Says ‘American Magic’ to Overcome Virus Uncertainty

- CNBC: Buffett says economy will beat virus: ‘Nothing can basically stop America’

- USA Today: Buffett tells investors to 'Bet on America,' buying stocks for long-term gain

 

The market reaction to this should be fun to watch.

 

I skimmed that article after the meeting. I couldn't believe the spin it took on the meeting. The WSJ watched a very different meeting than the one I saw.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

His comment about not understanding the impact of negative interest rates was also very clearly stated. He said understanding the impact of negative interest rates is likely THE most important economic question of our time. (The reason it is so important is we do not know).

 

He then punted the question to Greg who quickly agreed with Buffett.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good summary Nomad. I think it was very significant that Buffett referred to the option value of money and it ties in which his earlier comment that there was still a very wide range of economic outcomes. My interpretation is he feels the option value of having cash has gone up significantly.

 

I think that is a very interesting way of thinking especially as most investors assume that cash has a static value and therefore whenever stocks decline 20% they assume that stocks have automatically become a lot more attractive relative to holding cash.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest cherzeca

as we know the greatest value inherent in an option is time (and the fixed exercise price...which is absent here...no one can be assured of using cash to buy a stock tomorrow at today's price).  I guess warren is waiting and not seeing value now.  but if he is right that people may have changed their behavior so much that airlines are not investable, then that is a more pessimistic take than I have, on what I think will blow over within a medium term (1-2 years) investment horizon.  maybe at age 90 warren is becoming more short term.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I believe the ability to continue capital spending, and attracting talent, when earnings & cash flow are constrained, could be advantageous.

 

I'm thinking mainly about BHE, BNSF & the insurance operations.

This, of course, includes the other businesses that they don't simply let die on the vine.

 

You could argue that cheap credit will be available to those without a war chest but even if it's cheap, it's still a mill stone around your neck.

 

The analogy of BHE reinvesting cash that used to be paid out as dividends & widening their moat, comes to mind.

 

Could they get higher returns buying whole businesses or parts of businesses? Sure / maybe.

Anyone remember "Acres of Diamonds" by Earl Nightingale?

 

edit: www.nightingale.com/articles/acres-of-diamonds/

 

I know I'm just putting a positive spin on a subject with a ton of negative spin possibilities, but I'm definitely not putting lipstick on a pig.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

as we know the greatest value inherent in an option is time (and the fixed exercise price...which is absent here...no one can be assured of using cash to buy a stock tomorrow at today's price).  I guess warren is waiting and not seeing value now.  but if he is right that people may have changed their behavior so much that airlines are not investable, then that is a more pessimistic take than I have, on what I think will blow over within a medium term (1-2 years) investment horizon.  maybe at age 90 warren is becoming more short term.

 

How much intrinsic value will evaporate in those 2 years for shareholders? Yes, airlines may take on lots of debt and then keep paying those debts in the next 5-6 years. Just because they survive , will shareholders get richer? If yes, then by how much and what risk they are taking?

 

I don't think he is thinking short-term here. I think range of outcome is wide.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

as we know the greatest value inherent in an option is time (and the fixed exercise price...which is absent here...no one can be assured of using cash to buy a stock tomorrow at today's price).  I guess warren is waiting and not seeing value now.  but if he is right that people may have changed their behavior so much that airlines are not investable, then that is a more pessimistic take than I have, on what I think will blow over within a medium term (1-2 years) investment horizon.  maybe at age 90 warren is becoming more short term.

 

How much intrinsic value will evaporate in those 2 years for shareholders? Yes, airlines may take on lots of debt and then keep paying those debts in the next 5-6 years. Just because they survive , will shareholders get richer? If yes, then by how much and what risk they are taking?

 

I don't think he is thinking short-term here. I think range of outcome is wide.

 

It’s not a matter if air travel comes back. It surely will. It’s a matter of duration of the current and if current shareholders will get impaired and what the economics of the business will look like.

 

Buffet doesn’t know then answer and he realized that he didn’t get the deal that he thought he get when he bought into this. His process might have been correct and have worked out well in a parallel universe without the Coronavirus showing up, but it did not. So he makes the best guess and moves on. It is what it is.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I thought that selling out of the airlines showed a lot of discipline that is difficult for most people, myself included.  I don't exactly why Buffett bought the airlines, but presumably he though the industry had rationalized so that there were a reasonable number of competitors acting rationally.  Air travel seemed like it was on a sustained upward growth and additional capacity was at least somewhat limited.  All of those things are no longer true.

 

Seems simple enough - all the reasons he wanted to own the airlines are no longer applicable, so he no longer wants to own them.  Straightforward, but not easy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I thought that selling out of the airlines showed a lot of discipline that is difficult for most people, myself included.  I don't exactly why Buffett bought the airlines, but presumably he though the industry had rationalized so that there were a reasonable number of competitors acting rationally.  Air travel seemed like it was on a sustained upward growth and additional capacity was at least somewhat limited.  All of those things are no longer true.

 

Seems simple enough - all the reasons he wanted to own the airlines are no longer applicable, so he no longer wants to own them.  Straightforward, but not easy.

 

I agree. He's not afraid to admit mistakes, although it must hurt especially so with airlines given his historical opinion on them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

as we know the greatest value inherent in an option is time (and the fixed exercise price...which is absent here...no one can be assured of using cash to buy a stock tomorrow at today's price).  I guess warren is waiting and not seeing value now.  but if he is right that people may have changed their behavior so much that airlines are not investable, then that is a more pessimistic take than I have, on what I think will blow over within a medium term (1-2 years) investment horizon.  maybe at age 90 warren is becoming more short term.

 

How much intrinsic value will evaporate in those 2 years for shareholders? Yes, airlines may take on lots of debt and then keep paying those debts in the next 5-6 years. Just because they survive , will shareholders get richer? If yes, then by how much and what risk they are taking?

 

I don't think he is thinking short-term here. I think range of outcome is wide.

 

It’s not a matter if air travel comes back. It surely will. It’s a matter of duration of the current and if current shareholders will get impaired and what the economics of the business will look like.

 

Buffet doesn’t know then answer and he realized that he didn’t get the deal that he thought he get when he bought into this. His process might have been correct and have worked out well in a parallel universe without the Coronavirus showing up, but it did not. So he makes the best guess and moves on. It is what it is.

 

Listening to Buffett yesterday, I think the key reason he punted on the airlines is because they are such a capital intensive industry. And they are going to need a massive amount of new money just to survive the next year or two. And governments will want national champions (Italy nationalized it’s airline) so there will likely be lots of dumb things done there. So existing shareholders are at high risk of permanent loss of capital. Not an investment today but a speculation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest cherzeca

I respect WEB greatly, so no quibbles on the airlines sale.  not sure he would do it if he had an OXY-like pref in them, but no matter...but why does he continue with the larger investment in Kraft Heinz if he sells loser airlines as a matter of discipline?  which you might recall he did not discuss in his last annual letter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a long-standing Fairfax watcher, all this talk of depression gives me deja-vu. I have learned my lesson and won’t listen to it this time, which almost guarantees that it will happen.

 

The challenge with macro calls is you have to get not only the call right but also the timing. My view is the timing is the more difficult of the two to get right.

 

In time, we may learn that Fairfax was positioned properly in 2015 (with their very bearish position). They reversed in 2016 and locked in losses. Then got fully invested and may now be facing steep (paper) losses once again. If we get a severe bear market in stocks Fairfax may need to do a complete reset In terms of investment strategy to re-build investor confidence. What a crazy ride the past 25 years :-)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I respect WEB greatly, so no quibbles on the airlines sale.  not sure he would do it if he had an OXY-like pref in them, but no matter...but why does he continue with the larger investment in Kraft Heinz if he sells loser airlines as a matter of discipline?  which you might recall he did not discuss in his last annual letter

 

One is drastically better business than other. Airlines are likely to use earning power to pay down debts  for the next 5-7 years. Airline was not a case of good business and overpaying.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I respect WEB greatly, so no quibbles on the airlines sale.  not sure he would do it if he had an OXY-like pref in them, but no matter...but why does he continue with the larger investment in Kraft Heinz if he sells loser airlines as a matter of discipline?  which you might recall he did not discuss in his last annual letter

 

He discussed this in his CNBC interview on Feb 25, 2019. It has a fantastic discussion on consumer goods industry. I am clipping a small part of his answer. He commented further in the same or a later interview, something to the effect that it would very difficult to exit without moving the prices.

 

BECKY QUICK: But if you see better places to deploy money, why don’t you sell?

 

WARREN BUFFETT: We-- well, A) we can’t as a practical matter move around tens of billions of dollars that easily. But beyond that I mean, if we’re working with a million dollars or $10 million, would I have a position in it? No. You can move around with a million or $10 million. And Ted and Todd can move around reasonably well with $13 billion. But that can be difficult. $173 billion, I mean, you dance like an elephant. Not like some guy on Dancing With the Stars.

 

Vinod

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Folks, I am trying to understand this explanation.

 

he says CAPEX > depreciation … just means depressed earnings. How is that related to the net cash produced in the covid context remaining unchanged ? if anyone got that, a quick explanation would be appreciated.

 

thx

 

 

"Warren Buffett: (01:27:41)

It affects others much less. Our three major businesses of insurance and the BNSF railroad, railroad and our energy business, those are our three largest by some margin. They’re in a reasonably decent position. They will spend more than their depreciation. So some of the earnings will go, along with depreciation, will go toward increasing fixed assets.

Warren Buffett: (01:28:13)

But basically these businesses will produce cash even though their earnings decline somewhat. And if we’ll go to part two, at Berkshire, we keep ourselves in an extraordinary strong position. We’ll always do that—that’s just fundamental. We insure people. We’re a specialist to some extent and a leader. It’s not our main business, but we sell structured settlements. That means somebody gets in a terrible accident, usually an auto accident, and they’re going to require care for 10, 30, 50 years."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Did anyone feel Greg Abel is not exactly as witty or eloquent as Warren Buffet? If he becomes CEO it may be a different vibe.

 

 

Frankly, I'm good with that.  As long as the next guy does not fritter away the $100B+ cash balance on value-destructive, ego-driven acquisitions I won't much fuss about whether he is the funniest guy in the room.  I just pray that the next guy won't be another Edward Bronfman Jr.

 

 

SJ

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share




×
×
  • Create New...