Warren Buffett's Biggest Secret for Success

The trick to investing like Buffett is to stop caring so much about how much your stocks will go up, and start worrying more about how much they could go down.

Jul 5, 2014 at 9:47AM


Most people know Warren Buffett as one of the richest men in the world, who took a relatively small sum of money and turned it into one of the largest companies in the United States, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B)(NYSE:BRK-A).

When most people try to copy Buffett's style, they tend to focus on how he finds the hidden upside-potential in stocks, but that's not the most important thing. The best thing you can do for your portfolio is to think defensively, that is, to pick and choose companies that will do well when the rest of the market is doing poorly.

Why is it so important?
Stocks tend to go up over time. In fact, they have outperformed essentially every other asset class over any long period of time, so why do we care so much about the bad years?

Simply put, negative years have more of an impact on long-term performance. If your portfolio loses 20% in a year, you would need your stocks to gain 25% the next year just to break even.

To illustrate this point, consider two scenarios.

First, let's consider an aggressive investor whose portfolio returns an average of 20% during the years the market rises, but loses 15% during "down" years. Then, consider a defensive investor who makes 15% during positive years, but only loses 5% during negative ones. For simplicity's sake, let's assume we have two positive years for every one bad year.

As you can see, the defensive portfolio beats our aggressive example by about 30% over a 30-year timeframe.

The proof is in Berkshire's performance
You might be surprised to hear Berkshire has actually underperformed the S&P in four out of the last five years. In fact, the only year Berkshire beat the S&P, 2011, was the only year the market didn't post double-digit gains.

Generally, when the market shoots to the upside, the riskier and more volatile stocks tend to benefit the most. Well, that is exactly the type of investment Berkshire doesn't make. However, consider a year like 2008, when the market was in panic-mode. The S&P lost 37% of its value during that year, but Berkshire Hathaway's book value per share only dropped 9.6%.

In other words, the S&P needed to gain 59% to make up for its 2008 losses, which took the next four years to do. Berkshire, on the other hand, only needed an 11% rise to get back to even, which it achieved and more the very next year.

To further illustrate just how rock-solid Berkshire's portfolio is, here is perhaps the most impressive fact about the company's performance.

The S&P has had 11 down years out of the past 50. Berkshire's portfolio beat the S&P in each and every single one of those years. There has not been one single down year where the company's book value per share fell more than the broader market. That is the kind of performance that builds wealth.

The lesson to learn
The most successful investors know creating wealth isn't about finding the next big thing or taking lots of risks to possibly produce gains. In baseball terms, a hitter with 300 singles is much more valuable to his team than one with just a few home runs, and the same applies to investing.

As Buffett said to shareholders at this year's annual meeting, "In up years, we'll underperform, we'll outperform in down years, and over any cycle, we'll outperform."

Warren Buffett is buying this "defensive" stock
Imagine a company that rents a very specific and valuable piece of machinery for $41,000 per hour (That's almost as much as the average American makes in a year!). And Warren Buffett is so confident in this company's can't-live-without-it business model, he just loaded up on 8.8 million shares. An exclusive, brand-new Motley Fool report details this company that already has over 50% market share. Just click HERE to discover more about this industry-leading stock... and join Buffett in his quest for a veritable landslide of profits!

Matthew Frankel has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.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.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information