12 Reasons Warren Buffett Is an Incredible Investor and How You Can Learn From Him

Warren Buffett makes his way across the exhibition floor during the 2013 shareholder meeting.

On May 3, Berkshire Hathaway  (NYSE: BRK-A  ) (NYSE: BRK-B  ) will hold its annual shareholder meeting, an event so eagerly awaited by investors that it's been dubbed the "Woodstock for Capitalists."

At The Motley Fool, we're big fans of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger -- not to mention Berkshire Hathaway itself -- so we'll be in Omaha, covering the event for Foolish readers that can't make it out this year. In advance of the big day, we'll be counting down on Fool.com with our annual "12 Days of Berkshire" series.

I'm kicking it off today with 12 reasons why Warren Buffett is one of the best investors of our time -- and how you can learn from him.

12. Warren Buffett knows how to hold stocks for the long term
What Warren does: Buffett knows the best investment wins come from owning great companies for long periods of time.

Consider Wells Fargo  (NYSE: WFC  ) , the bank that has become almost synonymous with Buffett and Berkshire because it's Berkshire's largest stock position. Buffett started buying Wells Fargo in 1989 and has owned it ever since. As of the end of 2013, gains on that position alone had created more than $10 billion in value for Berkshire shareholders.

What you can do: When you do your research and find a great company to buy, be patient and let that company work on compounding your investment over many years. With Wall Street so focused on very short periods of time, there's more opportunity than ever to benefit from time arbitrage.

11. Buffett owns up to his mistakes
What Warren does: Ego schmego, Buffett has no problem owning up to his mistakes.

Here's Buffett calling himself out in the most recent letter to Berkshire shareholders:

Most of you have never heard of Energy Future Holdings. Consider yourselves lucky; I certainly wish I hadn't... About $2 billion of the debt was purchased by Berkshire, pursuant to a decision I made without consulting with Charlie. That was a big mistake. Unless natural gas prices soar, EFH will almost certainly file for bankruptcy in 2014. Last year, we sold our holdings for $259 million. While owning the bonds, we received $837 million in cash interest. Overall, therefore, we suffered a pre-tax loss of $873 million. Next time I'll call Charlie.

What you can do: Of course it sucks to make a mistake, especially when it costs you money. But some of the best learning opportunities in investing come by learning from mistakes. So resist the urge to sweep your whoopsies under the rug, and instead throw them under the microscope to help you make a better decision the next time around.

10. Buffett knows what he's good at... and leaves the rest to others
What Warren does: Buffett is one savvy so-and-so when it comes to capital allocation -- that is, knowing the best place to invest the cash that Berkshire businesses earn. But Buffett hasn't developed any special knack for managing an operating business.

So Buffett focuses his efforts on capital allocation and delegates day-to-day operating decisions to the managers at the Berkshire subsidiaries. 

What you can do: Put in your time and efforts where you can be most valuable. I believeindividual investors that have the talent and interest can beat the market and earn a substantial return for their time invested.

But if you're more dialed in to hand-weaving decorative baskets to sell on Etsy, then you may be best off cashing in on your craftiness and putting most of your investing portfolio into low-cost index funds.

9. Buffett sticks to his circle of competence
What Warren does: Buffett has spent his career developing an intimate knowledge of the finance and consumer goods industries. This gives him an edge when investing in these sectors. Berkshire's portfolio reflects the fact that Buffett largely sticks to these core competencies -- the company's top five holdings include Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola  (NYSE: KO  ) , American Express  (NYSE: AXP  ) , and Munich Re.

What you can do: Don't expect that you're going to be an expert in every industry. While diversification is good, you'll fare better over the long run if you focus your investing in the industries and types of companies that you understand the best.

8. Buffett puts his money where his best ideas are
What Warren does: At the end of 2013, Berkshire Hathaway's stock portfolio was worth $117 billion. A full 55% of that $117 billion was invested in just four stocks: Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola, IBM  (NYSE: IBM  ) , and American Express.

What you can do: Diversification is important, but if you diversify too much, you end up owning a lot of companies that you don't understand well or are able to fully follow. Diversify your portfolio, but put more money behind your best ideas -- those ideas that you've done the most work on, understand the best, and think have the most long-term upside.  

7. Buffett can clearly communicate his investing approach
What Warren does: Every year Buffett writes a letter to Berkshire Hathaway's shareholders, sharing both details around Berkshire's results as well as Buffett's deep thoughts on investing. The annual letter is brilliant in the way it shares Buffett's thinking both clearly and simply -- something that's rarely found among public companies.

What you can do: Ask just about any behavioral finance expert how you can improve your investing and you're likely to hear "Keep an investing journal." Getting in the habit of clearly recording your investing thinking -- the "whys" around your investments -- can go a long way toward making you a better investor.

6. Buffett knows the best time to buy is... when nobody else is
What Warren does: One of the classic Buffett saws is "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful." But it's more than just an overused quote -- it's actually the way Buffett invests.

There's much proof of Buffett practicing what he preaches, but you needn't look further than the October 2008 op-ed he wrote in The New York Times, "Buy American. I Am." October 2008 wasn't the bottom of the crash, but it was pretty dang close.

What you can do: In terms of replicating what Buffett does, this may be the most difficult thing I've brought up thus far. The psychological pull of the herd is incredibly powerful, and so doing the exact opposite of what everyone else can be a Herculean task. But the best buys you can make can be found when everybody else is pounding the sell button.

5. Buffett knows what it means to be patient
What Warren does: Buffett stockpiles cash. At the end of 2013, there was nearly $50 billion in cash on Berkshire Hathaway's balance sheet. Buffett would rather have much of that invested and working for investors, but he's willing to sit on impressive amounts of cash until he can find an idea really worth investing in.

What you can do: We're thinking long-term, so this isn't a sprint, it's a marathon (if not an ultramarathon). If you're finding great investment opportunities, by all means, invest in them. But don't throw money at investments simply because you have the cash. Be willing to sit on cash until you can put it into investments that are truly worthwhile.

4. Buffett knows that you've got it easier than him
What Warren doesn't do: Buffett doesn't spend much time investing in small companies. With a market capitalization of more than $300 billion, investing in small companies won't move the needle for Berkshire.

However, Buffett knows that some of the best returns are available in smaller companies and to investors with far less capital than Berkshire. Here's what Buffett's said:

It's a huge structural advantage not to have a lot of money. I think I could make you 50% a year on $1 million. No, I know I could. I guarantee that.

What you can do: Think small! In terms of growth opportunity, it's not hard to realize that a $500 million company has a lot more potential upside than a $100 billion company. That doesn't mean small companies will automatically succeed -- many, in fact, fail miserably. But a well-chosen small company can obliterate the returns of a plodding large cap.

3. Buffett learns from others
What Warren does: Buffett's investing career began in value-investing guru Benjamin Graham's classroom. As a voracious reader, Buffett continued to learn from many other investing luminaries, Phil Fisher not least among them. Buffett has also learned an enormous amount from his partner-in-crime Charlie Munger.

What you can doHumility can go a long way when it comes to investing. Being a lifetime learner and staying open-minded can help you continue to grow as an investor. There are lots of great books on investing -- from Ben Graham's Intelligent Investor to Peter Lynch's One Up On Wall Street -- but your investing can improve from insights in many other fields from business and psychology to computer science and physics.

2. Buffett doesn't get hung up on stock market forecasts
What Warren does: In short, he ignores the oodles of short-term market predictions. In fact, he put it much more forcefully in his 1992 letter to shareholders;

We've long felt that the only value of stock forecasters is to make fortune tellers look good. Even now, Charlie and I continue to believe that short-term market forecasts are poison and should be kept locked up in a safe place, away from children and also from grown-ups who behave in the market like children.

What you can do: Follow Buffett's lead and ignore short-term market forecasts. These one-year market guesses are so prevalent because news outlets think they draw viewers and readers -- sadly, they do -- and because the forecasters themselves bear little risk -- if they get it right, they'll be hailed as a genius, while if they get it wrong, nobody will even remember.

1. Buffett maintains a healthy diet
What Warren does: Ok, I'm kidding. Even though Buffett has reached the impressive age of 83, it's no secret that he doesn't take great care of himself. Buffett is known for his love of cheeseburgers and Cherry Cokes, and during the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting he does impressive work on an array of See's Candies (mostly the ridiculously delicious peanut brittle).

What you can do: Warren Buffett is a great investor, but maybe we don't have to copy everything he does. But then again, maybe cheeseburgers and Cherry Cokes are a key contributor of his success. Perhaps we need to do some more research...

We're revealing even more of Buffett's greatest wisdom
These 12 reasons tell us a lot about Warren Buffett, but it's not everything. He has made billions through his investing and he wants you to be able to invest like him. Through the years, Buffett has offered up investing tips to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Now you can tap into the best of Warren Buffett's wisdom in a new special report from The Motley Fool. Click here now for a free copy of this invaluable report.

Follow along as we countdown the days until Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska on May 3. A handful of Fools will be attending the event and live chatting with other Fools around the globe! Click HERE to set a reminder for yourself about the live chat!


Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (19)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2014, at 12:53 PM, douglee8 wrote:

    10. Buffett has said that he is a better businessman because he is an investor, and he is a better investor because he is a businessman.

    4. "Buffett knows that you've got it easier than him" should be "Buffet knows that you've got it easier than he does."

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2014, at 3:15 PM, SonyaWiley wrote:

    Dear Warren,

    Requesting to come a shore, sir?

    Love Sonya

  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2014, at 8:02 AM, cmalek wrote:

    12. Warren Buffett knows how to hold stocks for the long term

    That is a red herring. Paper profits are not worth the paper they recorded on. To get to the point of being able to afford the millions of shares of WFC, Buffet bought and sold many other stocks. When one has amassed a fortune, it is easy to buy-and-hold till death do us part. When one is trying to make a fortune, buy-and-hold does not add one penny to one's bank account. Only selling appreciated stock does. A stock certificate for 1,000 shares of BRK.A will not buy you a stick of gum, you need actual coin of the realm.

  • Report this Comment On April 25, 2014, at 2:47 PM, jackc37 wrote:

    Warren Buffett gets the President's ear and advises him to go for the stimulus and how to use it. The President listens and takes the advice. Buffett knows that and the results will enhance his existing investments and guarantee success in his next near term investments.

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