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 - XXIV - Views on News from Equitymaster
 
 
  • PRINT
  • E-MAIL
  • FEEDBACK
  • A  A  A
  • Dec 27, 2007

    Lessons from Warren Buffett - XXIV

    Last week, we read Warren Buffett's discourse on valuations and intrinsic value. In this concluding article on the master's 1992 letter to shareholders, let us see what he has to speak on employee compensation accounting and stock options.

    In the year 1992, two new accounting rules came into being out of which one mandated companies to create a liability on the balance sheet to account for present value of employees' post retirement health benefits. The master used the occasion to turn the tables on managers and chieftains who under the pretext of the old method avoided huge dents on their P&Ls and balance sheets. The earlier method required accounting for such benefits only when they are cashed but did not take into account the future liabilities that would arise thus overstating the net worth as well as profits by way of inadequate provisioning. This is what the master had to say on the issue.

    "Managers thinking about accounting issues should never forget one of Abraham Lincoln's favorite riddles: "How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg?" The answer: "Four, because calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg." It behooves managers to remember that Abe's right even if an auditor is willing to certify that the tail is a leg."

    By quoting the above statements, Warren Buffett has taken potshots at every accounting convention that understates liabilities and overstates profits and asks investors to guard against such measures. Next he criticizes accounting standard for ESOPs prevailing in the US at that time and this is what he has to say on the topic.

    "Typically, executives have argued that options are hard to value and that therefore their costs should be ignored. At other times, managers have said that assigning a cost to options would injure small start-up businesses. Sometimes they have even solemnly declared that "out-of-the-money" options (those with an exercise price equal to or above the current market price) have no value when they are issued.

    Oddly, the Council of Institutional Investors has chimed in with a variation on that theme, opining that options should not be viewed as a cost because they "aren't dollars out of a company's coffers." I see this line of reasoning as offering exciting possibilities to American corporations for instantly improving their reported profits. For example, they could eliminate the cost of insurance by paying for it with options. So if you're a CEO and subscribe to this "no cash-no cost" theory of accounting, I'll make you an offer you can't refuse: Give us a call at Berkshire and we will happily sell you insurance in exchange for a bundle of long-term options on your company's stock."

    The master has hit the nail on the head when he has further gone on to mention that something of value that is delivered to another party always has costs associated with it and these costs come out of the shareholders' pockets. Thus, things like ESOPs and post retirement health benefits should be appropriately accounted for and should not be hidden under the garb of fuzzy accounting standards and ingenious rationales.

    Before we round off the 1992 letter, let us see how the master in a way that he only can so strongly puts up the case for ESOPs to be considered as costs.

    "If options aren't a form of compensation, what are they? If compensation isn't an expense, what is it? And, if expenses shouldn't go into the calculation of earnings, where in the world should they go?"

    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 - XXIV". 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