Many money managers want to follow Warren Buffett’s 20-punch-card philosophy, but it’s almost impossible, according to Australian hedge fund manager John Hempton of Bronte Capital.
Buffett’s punch-card idea works like this:
You should think about investing in the stock market as though you have been given a card to punch each time you make an investment decision. You are only allowed 20 punches in your lifetime.
That means two things: You become very careful when you make a decision, and when you find one, you invest a lot of your money.
In practice, of course, Buffett has made many more than 20 investment decisions as chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The point of the punch-card idea is to inject discipline into your investing decisions.
Because you’re being careful, you can follow investing ideas favored by Buffett and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger: finding good companies at fair prices with durable competitive advantages so you can keep your money there for many years.
In a blog post, Hempton wrote that it’s popular for money managers to say they follow Buffett’s philosophy, but, “as far as I can see they are all phonys.”
“I used to profess myself a Buffett acolyte, too,” he wrote. “But somewhere along the line I realized I was a phony, too. I just wasn’t close to that selective, and when the situation was right I wasn’t anywhere near willing enough to pull the trigger and go really large in a position.”
It’s hard to be patient, Hempton wrote, noting that he hasn’t found a punchcard-quality company since 2012.
“But I am incapable of sitting idle since 2012 (even though the local beach is very good) and so I do stuff,” he wrote. “Inferior stuff. Stuff that may produce inferior results.”
As a fund manager, it’s also hard to sell an investment fund to clients when you aren’t making any investments and the ones you hold may be underperforming or merely dull, he wrote.
If a client asks what you have done in the past year, you could list the books you’ve read, the management teams you’ve contacted and the financial reports you’ve read and say, “but most importantly I did not buy a single share and I sold down a few positions I had.”
“That is kind of hard to justify,” Hempton wrote. “I don’t have a clue how you would ever
sell it to clients. I can’t imagine any clients buying it.”
‘The Tao of Charlie Munger’
Attorney/author David Clark’s upcoming book, “The Tao of Charlie Munger” (Scribner, 256 pages, $24), is a collection of 138 comments by Munger, “one of the greatest business and investing geniuses of the 20th and 21st centuries,” according to Clark.
“Tao” is a Chinese word meaning “way” or “path” or, most likely in this case, “doctrine.” So the book, due out in January, aims at explaining Munger’s ways of thinking about investments and life.
Clark, an investment adviser, has written other Berkshire-related books, including eight with Mary Buffett, ex-wife of Warren Buffett’s son Peter. Their “The Tao of Warren Buffett” came out in 2006.
The new book selects quotes from various publications and from Munger’s comments during shareholder meetings, each labeled with a word or phrase and followed by a brief commentary by Clark.
It’s organized into four parts: “Charlie’s thoughts on successful investing”; “Charlie on business, banking and the economy”; “Charlie’s philosophy applied to business and investing”; and “Charlie’s advice on life, education and the pursuit of happiness.”
Although Clark takes some time to think about the subjects, the most entertaining words, of course, are Munger’s. Some of the pithier ones:
» Acknowledging what you don’t know is the dawning of wisdom.
» I succeeded because I have a long attention span.
» Smart people aren’t exempt from professional disasters from overconfidence.
» Capitalism without failure is like religion without hell.
» Banks will not rein themselves in voluntarily. They need adult supervision.
» If you take what China has done from what China was, there’s been no achievement on this scale in the entire history of the world.
» The best armor of old age is a well-spent life preceding it.
Key vote for NV Energy
The Nov. 8 election will be powerful for Nevada voters aside from the presidency, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Voters will be asked to change the state’s constitution so they can choose who will provide their electricity, 90 percent of which now comes from Berkshire subsidiary NV Energy.
The utility is officially neutral but has said rates may rise and jobs may be lost if the amendment passes.
Those favoring the change — including many of the state’s casinos — say prices would drop and solar energy would be more affordable.
In New York, Texas and about a dozen other states, consumers and businesses can choose their energy providers. Last year about 19 million customers bought electricity from non-traditional utilities, more than double the number in 2004, the Energy Department said.
If the measure passes, the State Legislature would draft rules that would require another vote to become law. NV Energy would continue operating the power grid to carry electricity from all generators.
A survey of Nevada voters showed 72 percent support the measure, the Journal said.
Some perspective: If Susan Thompson Buffett, the first wife of Warren, were alive and had kept her Berkshire stock, she would be the sixth-richest woman in the country today.
At the time of her death in 2004, she owned 2.2 percent of Berkshire, which would be worth about $7.8 billion today.
Forbes magazine’s 2016 list put Warren Buffett at No. 3, with $65.5 billion, behind Microsoft’s Bill Gates ($81 billion) and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos ($67 billion).
Susan Buffett, who would have been No. 66 on the complete Forbes list, was a director of Berkshire and likely would have spent at least part of her fortune to support causes including civil rights, abortion rights and gay rights.
The women ranking ahead of her on Forbes’ 2016 list: Walmart’s Alice Walton, $35.4 billion, No. 13; Mars Inc.’s Jacqueline Mars, $27 billion, No. 16; Apple’s Laurene Powell Jobs, $17.7 billion, No. 23; money manager Abigail Johnson, $13.2 billion, No. 29; and media maven Blair Parry-Okeden, $10.8 billion, No. 39.
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns the Omaha World-Herald.
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