Warren Buffett’s 2022 Shareholder Letter was released on Saturday (February 25, 2023). Each year I provide a summary of the key takeaways from the letter but I’m starting to feel like an angry parent scolding their children and saying “I’m not going to repeat myself. I’m not going to repeat myself.”
Warren must be feeling the same way…except he’s starting to get somewhat ornery. His use of italics, in particular, adds an additional layer of emphasis.
So below I share just a few of Buffett’s key comments – some of which I rephrase or elaborate further to get even more to the point – while others I leave as is, because I think his frustration comes through clearly.
How Many Times Can I Tell You The Same Thing?
Buffett: “Charlie and I are not stock-pickers; we are business-pickers.”
Rephrase: I am one of the richest men in the world. I am viewed as the greatest investor of all time. I tell everybody every year exactly what I did to get rich, stay rich and get richer. But most of you ignore me – which is why [the prices of] “marketable stocks and bonds are baffling”. Stop day trading and trying to predict the future and just buy (and hold) companies with “long-lasting favorable economic characteristics and trustworthy managers”.
Following Accounting Reporting Rules Leads to Misleading Information
Buffett: “The GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) figure, absent our adjustment, fluctuates wildly and capriciously at every reporting date. The GAAP earnings are 100% misleading when viewed quarterly or even annually.”
Buffet spends a few paragraphs (and a table) highlighting why GAAP reporting of Berkshire’s results are not to be relied on…all leading up to the kicker…
Buffett: “…their [GAAP earnings] quarter-by-quarter gyrations, regularly and mindlessly headlined by media, totally misinform investors.”
This a good and more direct reminder by Buffett that media is not a positive influence on investor behaviour, that media are not financial gurus and likely don’t fully understand financial statements and results, and are not necessarily acting or reporting with investors’ best interests in mind.
But You Also Can’t Rely on Companies’ Adjusted or Operating Earnings Figures
Buffett: “Even the operating earnings figure that we favor can easily be manipulated by managers who wish to do so. Reporters and analysts embrace its existence as well.”
[For Berkshire, operating earnings is income calculated using GAAP, exclusive of capital gains or losses from equity holdings.]
Rephrase: You [individual investor] can’t rely on GAAP reporting, you can’t rely on management reporting, you can’t rely on the media reporting, and you can’t rely on research analysts. So take a page from my mentor Benjamin Graham’s investment bible The Intelligent Investor and decide whether you want to make investing your full-time job and figure this out yourselves, or just buy exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or hire an honest investment counsellor (like Ginsler Wealth 😊) to take care of this for you.
Share Repurchasers are Not Evil and Should Not be Subject to Tax
Buffett: “The math isn’t complicated: When the share count goes down, your interest in our many businesses goes up. Gains from value-accretive repurchases, it should be emphasized, benefit all owners – in every respect. When you are told that all repurchases are harmful to shareholders or to the country, or particularly beneficial to CEOs, you are listening to either an economic illiterate or a silver-tongued demagogue (characters that are not mutually exclusive).”
[Demagogue definition: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.]
Wowsers! That last line is a doozy and while the interwebs are speculating he is referencing Joe Biden and his 1% tax on share buybacks, Berkshire has denied that so far. However, Buffett also details in his letter the $32 billion of federal income tax paid by Bershire in the past decade: “When it comes to federal taxes, individuals who own Berkshire can unequivocally state ‘I gave at the office’.” – implying that the government shouldn’t need to tax Berkshire investors even further.
Buffet is 92 and Munger is 99 (Buffett provides a good list of Munger quotes in the letter) and this letter may have been more direct than those of the past. But I am disappointed in both of them. They could have enormous influence in changing the way investors, politicians, and the media act. But instead, they write a somewhat direct letter and then – like their approach to all their investments – they remain passive. With, dare I say, a shorter time horizon left for both of them, I think they need to actively repeat themselves…but louder.
Image credit: Nati Harnik, AP.