X

Sign up for Equitymaster's free daily newsletter, The 5 Minute WrapUp and get access to our latest Multibagger guide (2017 Edition) on picking money-making stocks.

This is an entirely free service. No payments are to be made.


Download Now Subscribe to our free daily e-letter, The 5 Minute WrapUp and get this complimentary report.
We hate spam as much as you do. Check out our Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.
Lessons from Warren Buffett - VII - Views on News from Equitymaster
 
 
  • PRINT
  • E-MAIL
  • FEEDBACK
  • A  A  A
  • Aug 9, 2007

    Lessons from Warren Buffett - VII

    While corporate excesses and the concept of economic earnings, different from accounting earnings remained the focal points in the master's 1982 letter to shareholders, let us see what he has to offer in his 1983 letter.

    In this another enlightening letter, Warren Buffett, probably for the first time discussed at length the concept of 'goodwill' and believed it to be of great importance in understanding businesses. Further, he blames the discrepancies between the 'actual intrinsic value' and the 'accounting book value' of Berkshire Hathaway to have arisen because of the concept of 'goodwill'. This is what he has to say on the subject.

    "You can live a full and rewarding life without ever thinking about goodwill and its amortization. But students of investment and management should understand the nuances of the subject. My own thinking has changed drastically from 35 years ago when I was taught to favor tangible assets and to shun businesses whose value depended largely upon economic goodwill. This bias caused me to make many important business mistakes of omission, although relatively few of commission."

    From the above quote, it is clear that the master's investment philosophy had undergone a sea change from when he first started investing. Further, with his company becoming too big, he could no longer afford to churn his portfolio as frequently as before. In other words, he wanted businesses where he could invest for the long haul and what better investments here than companies, where the economic goodwill is huge. The master had been kind enough in explaining this concept at length through an appendix laid out at the end of the letter. Since we feel that we couldn't have explained it better than the master himself, we have reproduced the relevant extracts below verbatim.

    "True economic goodwill tends to rise in nominal value proportionally with inflation. To illustrate how this works, let's contrast a See's kind of business with a more mundane business. When we purchased See's in 1972, it will be recalled, it was earning about US$ 2 m on US$ 8 m of net tangible assets (book value). Let us assume that our hypothetical mundane business then had US$ 2 m of earnings also, but needed US$ 18 m in net tangible assets for normal operations. Earning only 11% on required tangible assets, that mundane business would possess little or no economic goodwill.

    A business like that, therefore, might well have sold for the value of its net tangible assets, or for US$ 18 m. In contrast, we paid US$ 25 m for See's, even though it had no more in earnings and less than half as much in "honest-to-God" assets. Could less really have been more, as our purchase price implied? The answer is "yes" - even if both businesses were expected to have flat unit volume - as long as you anticipated, as we did in 1972, a world of continuous inflation.

    To understand why, imagine the effect that a doubling of the price level would subsequently have on the two businesses. Both would need to double their nominal earnings to $4 million to keep themselves even with inflation. This would seem to be no great trick: just sell the same number of units at double earlier prices and, assuming profit margins remain unchanged, profits also must double.

    But, crucially, to bring that about, both businesses probably would have to double their nominal investment in net tangible assets, since that is the kind of economic requirement that inflation usually imposes on businesses, both good and bad. A doubling of dollar sales means correspondingly more dollars must be employed immediately in receivables and inventories. Dollars employed in fixed assets will respond more slowly to inflation, but probably just as surely. And all of this inflation-required investment will produce no improvement in rate of return. The motivation for this investment is the survival of the business, not the prosperity of the owner.

    Remember, however, that See's had net tangible assets of only $8 million. So it would only have had to commit an additional $8 million to finance the capital needs imposed by inflation. The mundane business, meanwhile, had a burden over twice as large - a need for $18 million of additional capital.

    After the dust had settled, the mundane business, now earning $4 m annually, might still be worth the value of its tangible assets, or US $36 m. That means its owners would have gained only a dollar of nominal value for every new dollar invested. (This is the same dollar-for-dollar result they would have achieved if they had added money to a savings account.)

    See's, however, also earning US$ 4 m, might be worth US$ 50 m if valued (as it logically would be) on the same basis as it was at the time of our purchase. So it would have gained US$ 25 m in nominal value while the owners were putting up only US$ 8 m in additional capital - over US$ 3 of nominal value gained for each US$ 1 invested.

    Remember, even so, that the owners of the See's kind of business were forced by inflation to ante up US$ 8 m in additional capital just to stay even in real profits. Any unleveraged business that requires some net tangible assets to operate (and almost all do) is hurt by inflation. Businesses needing little in the way of tangible assets simply are hurt the least.

    And that fact, of course, has been hard for many people to grasp. For years the traditional wisdom - long on tradition, short on wisdom - held that inflation protection was best provided by businesses laden with natural resources, plants and machinery, or other tangible assets. It doesn't work that way. Asset-heavy businesses generally earn low rates of return - rates that often barely provide enough capital to fund the inflationary needs of the existing business, with nothing left over for real growth, for distribution to owners, or for acquisition of new businesses.

    In contrast, a disproportionate number of the great business fortunes built up during the inflationary years arose from ownership of operations that combined intangibles of lasting value with relatively minor requirements for tangible assets. In such cases earnings have bounded upward in nominal dollars, and these dollars have been largely available for the acquisition of additional businesses. This phenomenon has been particularly evident in the communications business. That business has required little in the way of tangible investment - yet its franchises have endured. During inflation, goodwill is the gift that keeps giving.

    But that statement applies, naturally, only to true economic goodwill. Spurious accounting goodwill - and there is plenty of it around - is another matter. When an overexcited management purchases a business at a silly price, the same accounting niceties described earlier are observed. Because it can't go anywhere else, the silliness ends up in the goodwill account. Considering the lack of managerial discipline that created the account, under such circumstances it might better be labeled 'No-Will'. Whatever the term, the 40-year ritual typically is observed and the adrenalin so capitalized remains on the books as an 'asset' just as if the acquisition had been a sensible one."

    Lessons from Warren Buffett Series - Previous article | Next article | All Articles
    Try the Warren Buffett Quiz

     

     

    Equitymaster requests your view! Post a comment on "Lessons from Warren Buffett - VII". Click here!

      
     

    More Views on News

    How to Ride Alongside India's Best Fund Managers (The 5 Minute Wrapup)

    Jun 10, 2017

    Forty Indian investing gurus, as worthy of imitation as the legendary Peter Lynch, can help you get rich in the stock market.

    You've Heard of Timeless Books... Ever Heard of Timeless Stocks? (The 5 Minute Wrapup)

    Aug 19, 2017

    Ever heard of Lindy Effect? Find out how you can use it to pick timeless stocks.

    Why NOW Is the WORST Time for Index Investing (The 5 Minute Wrapup)

    Aug 18, 2017

    Buying the index now will hardly help make money in stocks even in ten years.

    Trump Takes a Beating (Vivek Kaul's Diary)

    Aug 18, 2017

    Donald J Trump, a wrasslin' fan, took a 'Holy Sh*t!' blow on Tuesday.

    How To Read Your Mutual Fund Account Statement Correctly (Outside View)

    Aug 17, 2017

    PersonalFN simplifies the mutual fund account statement for you.

    More Views on News

    Most Popular

    Demonetisation Barely Made Any Difference to Tax Collections(Vivek Kaul's Diary)

    Aug 7, 2017

    The data tells us quite a different story from the one the government is trying to project.

    A 'Backdoor' to Multibaggers: It's Like Investing in Asian Paints Ten Years Ago(The 5 Minute Wrapup)

    Aug 10, 2017

    Don't miss these proxy bets on growing companies or in a few years you will be looking back with regret.

    Should You Invest In Bharat-22 ETF? Know Here...(Outside View)

    Aug 8, 2017

    Bharat-22 is one of the most diverse ETFs offered so far by the Government. Know here if you should invest...

    Signs of Life in the India VIX(Daily Profit Hunter)

    Aug 12, 2017

    The India VIX is up 36% in the last week. Fear has gone up but is still low by historical standards.

    7 Financial Gifts For Your Sister This Raksha Bandhan(Outside View)

    Aug 7, 2017

    Raksha Bandhan signifies the brother-sister bond. Here are 7 thoughtful financial gifts for sisters...

    More
    Copyright © Equitymaster Agora Research Private Limited. All rights reserved.
    Any act of copying, reproducing or distributing this newsletter whether wholly or in part, for any purpose without the permission of Equitymaster is strictly prohibited and shall be deemed to be copyright infringement.

    LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Equitymaster Agora Research Private Limited (hereinafter referred as 'Equitymaster') is an independent equity research Company. Equitymaster is not an Investment Adviser. Information herein should be regarded as a resource only and should be used at one's own risk. This is not an offer to sell or solicitation to buy any securities and Equitymaster will not be liable for any losses incurred or investment(s) made or decisions taken/or not taken based on the information provided herein. Information contained herein does not constitute investment advice or a personal recommendation or take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situations, or needs of individual subscribers. Before acting on any recommendation, subscribers should consider whether it is suitable for their particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek an independent professional advice. This is not directed for access or use by anyone in a country, especially, USA or Canada, where such use or access is unlawful or which may subject Equitymaster or its affiliates to any registration or licensing requirement. All content and information is provided on an 'As Is' basis by Equitymaster. Information herein is believed to be reliable but Equitymaster does not warrant its completeness or accuracy and expressly disclaims all warranties and conditions of any kind, whether express or implied. Equitymaster may hold shares in the company/ies discussed herein. As a condition to accessing Equitymaster content and website, you agree to our Terms and Conditions of Use, available here. The performance data quoted represents past performance and does not guarantee future results.

    SEBI (Research Analysts) Regulations 2014, Registration No. INH000000537.

    Equitymaster Agora Research Private Limited. 103, Regent Chambers, Above Status Restaurant, Nariman Point, Mumbai - 400 021. India.
    Telephone: +91-22-61434055. Fax: +91-22-22028550. Email: info@equitymaster.com. Website: www.equitymaster.com. CIN:U74999MH2007PTC175407
     

    Become A Smarter Investor In
    Just 5 Minutes

    Multibagger Stocks Guide 2017
    Get our special report, Multibagger Stocks Guide (2017 Edition) Now!
    We will never sell or rent your email id.
    Please read our Terms

    S&P BSE SENSEX


    Aug 18, 2017 (Close)

    MARKET STATS