Warren Buffett’s real track record
We all know Warren Buffett’s as one of the richest men in the world and the most successful investor of all time. But few really know what is Warren Buffett’s actual track record. To be the richest man in the world, surely he doubles or triples his money every year. It is a logical assumption. You will be pleasantly surprised. Over the years since 1965, Warren has “only” achieved an average return of 20.3% annually. (Depending on how recent you compute his average returns but that is his records.) If you compare that to some star hedge fund managers and even some retail investors, 20% annual return is nothing worth shouting about.
How can this be? We are talking about the richest man in the world (his best friend Bill Gates beat him occasionally but the verdict is still out)! The magic is the power of Compounding Returns and Consistency. Take a calculator and key in “$1000”, multiply it by 1.2. And then multiply it by 1.2 and do it 47 times. You get $5,266,457.26. If that is too much work, key this in your Excel spreadsheet “=1000*1.2^47). That is 5266 times over a period of 47 years with a mere $1000. This is a simple illustration excluding dividends and other profits. Warren succeeds phenomenally because he delivers consistent results unlike the one-hit wonders you read in business and investment magazines. These “star” hedge fund managers make a stunning profit in one year by making a clever bet, win all the industry awards, brag about their one-time success in all the marketing brochure and fail to deliver the next year. Oh, I forgot one more thing. You need to live long too.
What are the lessons we can learn from Warren Buffett?
As retail investors, we ought to be brutally honest with ourselves. I often hear amazing success stories from retail investors. They make a stunning return with one investment and without doing the mathematics, claim they are super investors who can return 50% a year. Of course, they sweep their other losses under the carpet. The key point is consistency. Investment is a long distance run for people who have the right vision, patience, temperament and intelligence. It is fundamentally different from gambling or get rich quick bets. It is not enough to win a race a year, you must consistently win every race every year.
As professional managers, we should think longer term. Warren’s teacher Benjamin Graham has introduced us the power of Value Investment. Conceptually, it is to buy assets below its intrinsic value (“fair value”) whenever the markets misprice the asset or are slow to pay attention to it. My investment teacher, Eric Kong, who is a long-time partner and mentor, (rated top-ten Asia fund manager by Mercer when he was running a fund) explained this concept using a simple analogy. It is like picking an ugly duckling in the pond when other ignore it and you have the foresight knowing that it will grow up to be a swan. I told him that this requires incredible intelligence and maybe a lot of luck. He smiled and told me something even more stunning. The problem with most investors is their obsession with chasing the most beautiful birds in the pond. Competition for an asset means unrealistic pricing like the recent Facebook with a price/earning ratio of 75 times. It takes 75 years before you can recoup your investment in Facebook if its profitability stays stagnant. The real secret in value investment is not to chase the hottest stocks or follow the “star” managers but to invest in a portfolio of companies that have a good sustainable business models and yet they are priced fairly because the rest of the investors take no notice of them. To stretch the analogy further, by picking a group of young, promising ducklings that are presently ignored by the rest, you will have a statistically higher chance of super returns than fighting with the rest who misprice their prized birds.
We learnt these core lessons in IOC. We believe in value investment. We walk the Warren Buffett Way but we adapted his Way into the Asian investment arena. We hunt our deals diligently and carefully like Warren Buffett but we are also cognizant of the inherent complexities in Asia. We invest in a successful global franchise (one of Warren’s most successful investment is in Macdonald Restaurant) and combine that with investments in pre-IPO technology companies. Along the way, we will evolve and get even better at what we do but our core investment philosophies will always remain the same. “Transform. Create. Value.” – will be our key principles.