Every year, thousands of investors flock to Omaha to hear the wisdom of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. For as long as six hours, with only one break for lunch, the two business legends take questions from investors, the press, and analysts. Appropriately for a shareholder meeting, the focus is the business of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B) (NYSE:BRK-A), but it's not the only topic they discuss. To cover the event, we sent eight analysts to Omaha.
Following are my top 10 Buffett quotes from the six-hour session. It's not an official transcript. But we've captured the essence of Buffett's wisdom, and I hope you find this a useful, enjoyable read.
1. Corporate boards:
The so-called independent directors are receiving $200,000 to $300,000 per year, but they are not independent. How would you feel about going to work four to six days per year with pleasant company, prestige, and pay of $300,000 per year? I'm assuming you'd like to get another job like that. Companies are not looking for Dobermans on the board; they are looking for Cocker spaniels. Social dynamics are important in boards.
2. Cost of capital:
Our cost of capital is the production of our second-best ideas. I have listened to so many nonsensical cost-of-capital discussions. I have heard CFOs talk about it, but nobody knows what it is. The real test is whether the capital that we retain generates more in market value than is retained.
3. Partnership with Charlie Munger:
Charlie and I have never had an argument. We met when I was 29 and he was 35. We have disagreed on a lot of things, but it never has [led] and never will lead to an argument. We argue with other people.
4. Advantages of allocating capital within Berkshire:
Capitalism is about allocating capital, and we can do that without tax consequences. We can take money from [See's Candies] and move it to the place of best return, as the situation says, be it wind farms or whatever. And nobody is better to do that than Berkshire
5. Circle of competence:
Being realistic when realizing you own shortcomings is important. There are a number of CEOs who don't know where their circle begins and ends! The best really know when they are playing the game that they're going to win. ... When you're playing the game, versus playing outside the game, knowing the difference is a huge asset.
6. On money and happiness:
There are things money can't buy. I don't think standard of living equates with cost of living beyond a certain point. Good housing, good health, good food, good transport. There's a point you start getting inverse correlation between wealth and quality of life.
7. Intrinsic value:
The intrinsic value of any business is the present value of all cash distributed between now and Judgment Day. We're not perfect in judging that, by the way. Aesop said a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, in 600 B.C., and that hasn't been improved much by business professors since then.
8. Owning a sports team:
I owned a quarter of a minor-league team, but it's not responsible for my position on the Forbes 400. No, I'm not interested in buying a sports team. If you hear us doing it, it might be time to talk to our successors.
9. On financial literacy and education:
Habits are such a powerful force in everyone's life, including good financial habits. Digging yourself out of the holes that financial illiteracy can cause can take a lifetime. ... A big problem is adult financial literacy. It's harder to be smarter unless the schools intercede. A lot can be done on TV and the Internet, but it is really important to have good financial habits, and anything the school system can do will help.
10. Breaking up Berkshire Hathaway:
Berkshire is worth more under its current structure than in any other.
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Brendan Mathews owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.