Berkshire Hathaway 2022 Annual Report to the shareholders has been released on February 25, 2023. The Annual Report contains information about Berkshire’s financial situation and operational outcomes. The 2023 Berkshire Shareholders Meeting is planned for Saturday, May 6, this year. Here are a few excerpts from Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders.
What We Do
Charlie and I allocate your savings at Berkshire between two related forms of ownership. First, we invest in businesses that we control, usually buying 100% of each. Berkshire directs capital allocation at these subsidiaries and selects the CEOs who make day-by-day operating decisions. When large enterprises are being managed, both trust and rules are essential. Berkshire emphasizes the former to an unusual – some would say extreme – degree.
Disappointments are inevitable. We are understanding about business mistakes; our tolerance for personal misconduct is zero. In our second category of ownership, we buy publicly-traded stocks through which we passively own pieces of businesses. Holding these investments, we have no say in management.
Our goal in both forms of ownership is to make meaningful investments in businesses with both long-lasting favorable economic characteristics and trustworthy managers. Please note particularly that we own publicly-traded stocks based on our expectations about their long-term business performance, not because we view them as vehicles for adroit purchases and sales.
That point is crucial:
Charlie and I are not stock-pickers; we are business-pickers. Over the years, I have made many mistakes. Consequently, our extensive collection of businesses currently consists of a few enterprises that have truly extraordinary economics, many that enjoy very good economic characteristics, and a large group that are marginal. Along the way, other businesses in which I have invested have died, their products unwanted by the public.
Capitalism has two sides:
The system creates an ever-growing pile of losers while concurrently delivering a gusher of improved goods and services. Schumpeter called this phenomenon “creative destruction.”
At this point, a report card from me is appropriate:
In 58 years of Berkshire management, most of my capital-allocation decisions have been no better than so-so. In some cases, also, bad moves by me have been rescued by very large doses of luck. (Remember our escapes from near-disasters at USAir and Salomon? I certainly do.) Our satisfactory results have been the product of about a dozen truly good decisions – that would be about one every five years – and a sometimes-forgotten advantage that favors long-term investors such as Berkshire. Let’s take a peek behind the curtain.
The Secret Sauce
In August 1994 Berkshire completed its seven-year purchase of the 400 million shares of Coca-Cola we now own. The total cost was $1.3 billion – then a very meaningful sum at Berkshire. The cash dividend we received from Coke in 1994 was $75 million. By 2022, the dividend had increased to $704 million. Growth occurred every year, just as certain as birthdays. All Charlie and I were required to do was cash Coke’s quarterly dividend checks. We expect that those checks are highly likely to grow.
American Express is much the same story. Berkshire’s purchases of Amex were essentially completed in 1995 and, coincidentally, also cost $1.3 billion. Annual dividends received from this investment have grown from $41 million to $302 million. Those checks, too, seem highly likely to increase. At yearend, our Coke investment was valued at $25 billion while Amex was recorded at $22 billion. Each holding now accounts for roughly 5% of Berkshire’s net worth, akin to its weighting long ago.
The lesson for investors: The weeds wither away in significance as the flowers bloom. Over time, it takes just a few winners to work wonders. And, yes, it helps to start early and live into your 90s as well. As for the future, Berkshire will always hold a boatload of cash and U.S. Treasury bills along with a wide array of businesses. We will also avoid behavior that could result in any uncomfortable cash needs at inconvenient times, including financial panics and unprecedented insurance losses.
Our CEO will have a significant part of their net worth in Berkshire shares, bought with their own money. And yes, our shareholders will continue to save and prosper by retaining earnings. At Berkshire, there will be no finish line.