Warren Buffett's Letter to Shareholders


An excerpt:

Our gain in net worth during 2009 was $21.8 billion, which increased the per-share book value of both our Class A and Class B stock by 19.8%. Over the last 45 years (that is, since present management took over) book value has grown from $19 to $84,487, a rate of 20.3% compounded annually.*

Berkshire’s recent acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe has added at least 65,000 shareholders to the 500,000 or so already on our books. It’s important to Charlie Munger, my long-time partner, and me that all of our owners understand Berkshire’s operations, goals, limitations and culture. In each annual report, consequently, we restate the economic principles that guide us. This year these principles appear on pages 89-94 and I urge all of you – but particularly our new shareholders – to read them. Berkshire has adhered to these principles for decades and will continue to do so long after I’m gone.

In this letter we will also review some of the basics of our business, hoping to provide both a freshman orientation session for our BNSF newcomers and a refresher course for Berkshire veterans.

Read Buffett’s full letter to shareholders here.

From $8 a Month to $20 Billion

“Twenty-five years ago, when Zong Qinghou was 42, he made his living selling soft drinks and popsicles to schoolchildren. He says he earned about $8 a month — less than a third of China’s average wage at the time — and was so broke that he once slept in a tunnel under the streets of Beijing rather than spend on a hotel.

“Today, Zong, 67, is still selling soda — and lots of other things — as the wealthiest man in mainland China, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its December cover package, “The World’s Richest People.” His net worth of $20.1 billion as of Oct. 5 ranks him No. 30 in the world…”

– Bloomberg, Zong Tops China Billionaires as Communist-to-Capitalist

The responsible trader puts risk control first. That means staying clearheaded in respect to potential outcomes, refusing to “drink the kool-aid” while everyone else chugs it.

Given the need for realism, though, it’s good to temper cynicism with awareness of what’s possible… the potential in what could happen, with hard work, if things really go right.

In that regard, extreme success outliers are not to be envied or copycatted — obviously one needs a lot of fortuitous circumstance (plus the hard work) to do what Zong did.

Instead, fat tail successes serve as a useful reminder that perhaps, just perhaps, outlandish aspirations are not so outlandish… and could even be modest in respect to what’s been done.

After all, if a man in China can go from making $8 a month at age 42, to being worth $20 billion at age 67, who is to say what you or I might achieve? 

10 Money Lessons from Billionaires

Billionaires have changed the way our world works. They’ve altered the way we communicate, travel, and live. And along the way, they have made incredible amounts of money for their efforts.

 Learning from the 10 billionaires below is not only a good idea if you want to boost your bank account, but also if you want your work to make a difference.

With that in mind, here are 10 lessons from billionaires on earning money, succeeding in business, and finding happiness in life.

1. “You become what you believe. You are where you are today in your life based on everything you have believed.” —Oprah Winfrey, net worth of $2.7 billion

First and foremost, you have to believe that greatness is possible. Many of the world’s billionaires have shifted the way our world works, because they believed that they were capable of doing something that was previously impossible.

Change is possible. Greatness is possible. But you can’t do anything unless you first believe in yourself.

2. “What we say here every day is that our success is really based on our members’ success, our community’s success.” —Pierre Omidyar, net worth of $6.7 billion

Your success is directly tied to how much you do for others. It’s not what you know. It’s not who you know. It’s what you do for who you know. Success follows generosity.

3. “The typical human life seems to be quite unplanned, undirected, unlived, and unsavored. Only those who consciously think about the adventure of living as a matter of making choices among options, which they have found for themselves, ever establish real self-control and live their lives fully.” —Karl Albrecht, net worth of $25.4 billion (more…)

Jason Zweig’s Rules for Investing

1. Take the Global View: Use a spreadsheet to track your total net worth — not day-to-day price fluctuations.

2. Hope for the best, but expect the worst: Brace for disaster via diversification and learning market history. Expect good investments to do poorly from time to time. Don’t allow temporary under-performance or disaster to cause you to panic.

3. Investigate, then invest: Study companies’ financial statement, mutual funds’ prospectus, and advisors’ background. Do your homework!

4. Never say always: Never put more than 10% of your net worth into any one investment.

5. Know what you don’t know: Don’t believe you know everything. Look across different time periods; ask what might make an investment go down.

6. The past is not prologue: Investors buy low sell high! They don’t buy something merely because it is trending higher. (more…)

Facebook CEO will donate most of his wealth

Well, if Mark Zuckerberg’s image wasn’t already bolstered enough by his recent appearance on 60 Minutes, today’s announcement might help polish it a bit more.

Zuckerberg is one of 17 of the latest billionaires to sign the Giving Pledge, a joint effort from Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to encourage wealthy individuals “to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death,” according to the organization’sweb site. The Wall Street Journal first reported the news early Thursday morning.

“People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?” said Zuckerberg, according to a press release. ”With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts.”

First officially announced by Gates and Buffett in June of this year, The Giving Pledge touts a list of 57 billionaires who have pledged to give a majority of their wealth away over the course of their lifetime.

Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook and #290 on the list with $1.4 billion, has also agreed to join Zuckerberg in signing. Other names new to the list include ex-AOL CEO Steve Case and investor Carl Icahn.Mr. Icahn ranks 24th on this year’s Forbes 400 list, at an estimated net worth of $11 billion. Zuckerberg, whose soaring second-market shares valuation of Facebook stock brings his estimated net worth to $6.9 billion, is new to this year’s Forbes 400 list at #35.  Gates and Buffettcontinue to top the list at #1 and #2, $54 billion and $45 billion, respectively. (more…)

True False Questions

True or False

  1. The big money in trading is made when one can get long at lows after a big downtrend.
  2. It’s good to average down when buying.
  3. After a long trend, the market requires more consolidation before another trend starts.
  4. It’s important to know what to do if trading in commodities doesn’t succeed.
  5. It is not helpful to watch every quote in the markets one trades.
  6. It is a good idea to put on or take off a position all at once.
  7. Diversification is better than always being in 1 or 2 markets.
  8. If a day’s profit or loss makes a significant difference to your net worth, you are overtrading.
  9. A trader learns more from his losses than his profits.
  10. Except for commission and brokerage fees, execution costs for entering orders are minimal over the course of a year.
  11. It’s easier to trade well than to trade poorly.
  12. It’s important to know what success in trading will do for you later in life.
  13. Uptrends end when everyone gets bearish.
  14. The more bullish news you hear the less likely a market is to break out on the upside.
  15. For an off-floor trader, a long-term trade ought to last 3 or 4 weeks or less.
  16. Other’s opinions of the market are good to follow.
  17. Volume and open interest are as important as price action.
  18. Daily strength and weakness is a good guide for liquidating long term positions with big profits.
  19. Off-floor traders should spread different markets of different market groups.
  20. The more people are going long the less likely an uptrend is to continue in the beginning of a trend.
  21. Off-floor traders should not spread different delivery months of the same commodity.
  22. Buying dips and selling rallies is a good strategy.
  23. It’s important to take a profit most of the time.
  24. Of 3 types of orders (market, stop, and resting), market orders cost the least skid.
  25. The more bullish news you hear and the more people are going long the less likely the uptrend is to continue after a substantial uptrend.
  26. The majority of traders are always wrong.
  27. Trading bigger is an overall handicap to one’s trading performance.
  28. Larger traders can muscle markets to their advantage.
  29. Vacations are important for traders to keep the proper perspective.
  30. Undertrading is almost never a problem.
  31. Ideally, average profits should be about 3 or 4 times average losses.
  32. A trader should be willing to let profits turn into losses.
  33. A very high percentage of trades should be profits.
  34. A trader should like to take losses.
  35. It is especially relevant when the market is higher than it’s been in 4 and 13 weeks.
  36. Needing and wanting money are good motivators to good trading.
  37. One’s natural inclinations are good guides to decision making in trading.
  38. Luck is an ingredient in successful trading over the long run.
  39. When you’re long, limit up is a good place to take a profit.
  40. It takes money to make money.
  41. It’s good to follow hunches in trading.
  42. There are players in each market one should not trade against.
  43. All speculators die broke
  44. The market can be understood better through social psychology than through economics.
  45. Taking a loss should be a difficult decision for traders.
  46. After a big profit, the next trend following trade is more likely to be a loss.
  47. Trends are not likely to persist.
  48. Almost all information about a market is at least a little useful in helping make decisions.
  49. It’s better to be an expert in 1-2 markets rather than try to trade 10 or more markets.
  50. In a winning streak, total risk should rise dramatically.
  51. Trading stocks is similar to trading commodities.
  52. It’s a good idea to know how much you are ahead or behind during a trading session.
  53. A losing month is an indication of doing something wrong.
  54. A losing week is an indication of doing something wrong.
  55. One should favor being long or being short – whichever one is comfortable with.
  56. On initiation one should know precisely at what price to liquidate if a profit occurs.
  57. One should trade the same number of contracts in all markets.
  58. If one has $10000 to risk, one ought to risk $2500 on every trade.
  59. On initiation one should know precisely where to liquidate if a loss occurs.
  60. You can never go broke taking profits.
  61. It helps to have the fundamentals in your favor before you initiate.
  62. A gap up is a good place to initiate if an uptrend has started.
  63. If you anticipate buy stops in the market, wait until they are finished and buy a little higher than that.
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