Lessons from Warren Buffett - IV

Last week, we touched upon the key points in Warren Buffett's 1979 letter to his shareholders. This week, let us see what the master has to offer in his 1980 letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway:

"The value to Berkshire Hathaway of retained earnings is not determined by whether we own 100%, 50%, 20% or 1% of the businesses in which they reside. Rather, the value of those retained earnings is determined by the use to which they are put and the subsequent level of earnings produced by that usage."

The maestro made the above statements because in those days he felt that the prevailing accounting convention/standards were not in sync with a value based investment approach (Infact, they still aren't). In the paragraphs preceding the one mentioned above, he painstakingly explains that while accounting convention requires that a partial ownership (ownership of say 20%) in a business be reflected on the owner's books by way of dividend payments, in reality, they are worth much more to the owner and their true value is determined by the 20% of the intrinsic value of the company and not by 20% of the dividends that are reflected on its books. In the Indian context, imagine someone valuing a company like say M&M -if it had say a 20% stake in Tech Mahindra- based on the 20% of dividends that the latter pays out to M&M. This will be a rather incorrect way of valuing M&M, which in effect should be valued taking into account 20% of the intrinsic value of Tech Mahindra and not the dividends.

"The competitive nature of corporate acquisition activity almost guarantees the payment of a full - frequently more than full price when a company buys the entire ownership of another enterprise. But the auction nature of security markets often allows finely run companies the opportunity to purchase portions of their own businesses at a price under 50% of that needed to acquire the same earning power through the negotiated acquisition of another enterprise."

Buffett, as most of us might know, is a strong advocate of buyback, especially at a time when the stock is trading significantly lower than its intrinsic value and the above paragraph is just a testimony to this principle of his. Indeed, when stock prices are low, what better way to utilize capital than to enhance ownership in the company by way of buy back. The master further goes on to add that one can buy a portion of a business at a much lower price, provided there is auction happening. In other words, when there is a panic in the market and everyone is offloading shares, the chances of getting an attractive price is much higher. On the other hand, when there is a competition between two or more companies for buying another enterprise, the competitive forces will more likely than not keep the acquisition price higher, in most cases, higher than even the intrinsic value of the company.

For discussion on the previous letters of Warren Buffett, please refer to the link below:

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