The latest annual 2020 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders meeting (AGM) held on 2 May in Omaha was as insightful as ever. Warren Buffett was on top form, dispensing timeless advice to investors, new and pros alike. Charlie Munger, Buffett’s partner was not present at this year’s meeting due to logistics difficulties brought by the ongoing Coronavirus epidemic. Instead, Buffett was flanked by Greg Abel, one of his deputies. Unlike previous years, the thousands of attendees were absent and the virtual meeting as streamed by Yahoo Finance. Here are key takeaways.
Stock market prices can be very volatile for a whole range of reasons. This is something that investors should expect and huge price drops are to be expected once in a while. Buffett referred to the Dow Jones Industrial index’s long term performance. The price dropped by more than 50% in the 1930s, following the roaring twenties.
Full recovery only occurred after 1950, although dividends were collected in the meantime. Therefore, it is important for investors to have the psychological temperement in order to go through market drops and were possible buy more stocks at reduced prices.
Buffett gave the example of owning a farm. You would have purchased it at a value based on its projected investment return. However, A neighbour with a similar farm may offer to sell to you at a price which varies wildly from day to day. This is how the stock market behaves and does not mean that you should act on these prices.
Plant seeds now
Responding to a question about why Berkshire Hathaway invests huge capital in its energy businesses, Buffett and Abel outlined that these are long term, planned investments analogous to planting seeds. As investors, we can use this to plan for the future by making the right investments as soon as possible without focusing on an immediate return. Returns may not be epic, but will become substantial over a long time.
Index fund investing
To avoid disaster, investing in index funds offers wide diversification of industries within the economy. This is particularly important now in the time of the Coronavirus. Different sectors’ performance will vary as evidenced by a contrast in fortunes of Technology companies and the airline/ travel industry.
Berkshire has sold all of its holdings in four major airlines at a loss due to bleak prospects in the sector. Buffett alluded that the initial purchases were a mistake and that the world has now changed due t the virus. Such losses can be inflicted on individual investors too if the are into buying single stocks and day trading, rather than diversifying across the whole market.
Be prepared according to goals
Buffett revealed that Berkshire now holds over $130 Billion in cash/ equivelants. This seems like a huge figure but must be taken in the context that Berkshire’s overall market cap is nearly $400 Billion.
A large cash pile enables the company to protect investors and part of it may be used to make a large ‘Elephant’ size business acquisition when valuations permit. This opportunity has not appeared to Buffett during the recent chaos on the markets.
On a personal investor level, one can develop micro portfolios, which ensure that you are better placed to meet your goals if the market crashes. For example, if saving for a real estate property, one can have a dedicated fund with less than 40% stocks, and be 100% stocks if they have a longer term goal such as early retirement.
Appreciate key workers
Buffett and Abel also made known their appreciation of key workers in the current COVID-19 crisis. It is disheartening that people born in the right place at the right time or who can do things such as arbitrage bonds become more successful than those who do truly important work such as teachers, nurses delivery and transport workers. We really on such workers in times of crisis and rarely fully appreciate them in normal times.
It will be interesting how the next few months play out for investors. Diversification will be as important as ever as the World emerges to different ways of doing things.
The full 2020 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders meeting can be streamed on Yahoo Finance here.