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12 Days of Berkshire Hathaway

By Matt Koppenheffer - Apr 22, 2013 at 9:33PM

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We're counting down the days until the annual "Woodstock for Capitalists" -- Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholder meeting.

On May 4, thousands of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A 1.60%)(BRK.B 1.72%)faithful will descend on Omaha for the company's annual shareholders' meeting.

They will be there to toss newspapers onto the porch of a Clayton Home. They will be there to try on Justin boots, buy GEICO insurance, eat at Gorat's steakhouse, wander the Nebraska Furniture Mart, and run in the Brooks "Invest in Yourself" 5k race. And, of course, they will be there to hear Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger -- two of the greatest investors of our time -- answer questions from shareholders and the media.

Since this is one of the most Foolish days on the calendar, the Fool will be sending a contingent to this "Woodstock for Capitalists" to fill in Foolish readers on everything (or, at least, nearly everything) that Warren and Charlie have to say.

"But wait!" you're no doubt thinking. "Do we really have to wait nearly two weeks for the fun to begin?"

Of course not! That's why over the next 12 days, we're going to be celebrating the "12 Days of Berkshire Hathaway." We'll be looking at some of our favorite aspects of Berkshire, as well as what scares us about Berkshire and a little bit of what we just think is really cool. 

And the party kicks off today with 12 classic Warren Buffett quotes:

1. "When we own portions of outstanding businesses with outstanding managements, our favorite holding period is forever."

Forever is a mighty long time, but in terms of being a long-term owner, Buffett practices what he preaches. Coca-Cola (KO -0.27%) and Wells Fargo (WFC 3.55%) have been in Berkshire's portfolio for more than two decades. While Buffett hasn't been an active buyer in Coke for quite a while, he's added significantly to the Wells position in recent years. 

2. "Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Don't forget rule No. 1."

3. "It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price."

Premium companies like Coke aren't often (ever?) available at true bottom-of-the-barrel prices. For long-term investors like Buffett, the compounding returns of a high-quality, growing company can easily trump the bounce-back profits from a mediocre or poor company trading at a bargain price.

4. "After all, you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out."

See: financial crisis of 2008/2009 and its aftermath.

5. "The stock market is a no-called-strike game. You don't have to swing at everything -- you can wait for your pitch."

6. "There are all kinds of businesses that Charlie and I don't understand, but that doesn't cause us to stay up at night. It just means we go on to the next one, and that's what the individual investor should do."

Again, Buffett doesn't just talk the talk here. Buffett wrote in his 2011 letter to Berkshire shareholders that he'd been reading IBM's (IBM 2.47%) annual report for more than 50 years! Yet he hadn't bought it. But then, suddenly, in 2011 he purchased a massive position for Berkshire because, he says, his "thinking crystallized." He probably came to understand that IBM has become far more than a race-for-the-latest-innovation technology company and that companies around the world depend on it for comprehensive solutions.

But in any case, it represents Buffett's willingness to stay on the sidelines until he fully understands a company and its long-term prospects.

7. "The key to investing is not assessing how much an industry is going to affect society, or how much it will grow, but rather determining the competitive advantage of any given company and, above all, the durability of that advantage."

There's a reason Coke is Berkshire's second-largest holding and that Procter & Gamble and American Express are also among the top 10. When a company establishes a durable competitive advantage -- or a "moat," as Buffett likes to call it -- it becomes one of those companies worth adding to that "hold for forever" pile.

8. "If past history was all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians."

9. "The ideal business is one that earns very high returns on capital and that keeps using lots of capital at those high returns. That becomes a compounding machine."

10. "You don't need to be a rocket scientist. Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with 130 IQ."

Complex math and models can often do more harm than good for investors (see: financial crisis of 2008/2009). In most cases, the winning formula is sticking to the basics and owning great companies over long period of time. And you don't need a Ph.D. in advanced mathematics to do that.

11. "I am a better investor because I am a businessman, and a better businessman because I am an investor."

12. "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

We can certainly all apply this to our own lives, but when it comes to investing, this is a great reminder that we should always seek out the most upright and trustworthy management teams that view their reputation in a similar light.

Heading to Omaha
On May 4, Berkshire Hathaway will be holding its epic annual meeting in Omaha, and the Fool will be there to bring you everything you need to know from this "Woodstock for Capitalists." Simply click here to follow along with all of the Fool's coverage.

More to come!
We will be updating the links below throughout the next two weeks as we continue to run through the 12 Days of Berkshire, so be sure to check back here, or on, for plenty more on Berkshire and Buffett.

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Stocks Mentioned

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
$471,670.00 (1.60%) $7,420.00
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
$314.60 (1.72%) $5.31
International Business Machines Corporation Stock Quote
International Business Machines Corporation
$138.37 (2.47%) $3.34
The Coca-Cola Company Stock Quote
The Coca-Cola Company
$65.78 (-0.27%) $0.18
Wells Fargo & Company Stock Quote
Wells Fargo & Company
$43.71 (3.55%) $1.50

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