Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Warren Buffett Challenge (and Index Funds)

Warren Buffett, in the 2007 Annual Berkshire Hathaway Conference, has some interesting comments.

Warren Buffett even offered a challenge:

Name at least ten hedge funds that will beat a low-cost index funds.

His point? For "a know-nothing investor, a low-cost index fund will beat professionally managed money." But you might ask why didn't Mr. Buffett take his own advice on index funds? Warren Buffett said that he thought could beat the S&P by a couple of percentage points, "just not a whole lot better."

Other gems selectively taken directly from a Leslie McFadden Article from

1. Read and think before you invest. When a 17-year-old who was attending his 10th consecutive Berkshire annual meeting asked how to become a better investor, Buffett offered some simple but golden advice. Read everything on investing you can get your hands on and fill up your mind with various competing thoughts. After doing that, it's time to get started, as investing on paper and dealing with real money is like "reading a romance novel and doing something else."

He added that when you think about buying shares in a company, think about why you might buy the whole business. If you couldn't write an essay about it, then you shouldn't buy any shares.

2. Risk is tied to the type of business and ignorance of the investor. One investor from Los Angeles asked about using volatility as a measurement of an investment's risk. "Volatility does not determine the risk of investing," Buffett said, adding that risk comes with certain kinds of businesses and not knowing what you're doing. A better approach would be to understand the economics of the business you're investing in, he said.

3. What can be done about shorting stocks? "I have no problem with shorts," says Buffett. He added that he didn't think shorting stocks poses any threat to the world. He would be fine with it if someone wanted to short Berkshire stock.

4. Better to invest in businesses tough for competitors to enter. Asked about his interest in investing in Taiwanese high-tech companies, Buffett remarked that "change is wonderful, but not necessarily for investments." In terms of predicting how a business will perform, he said it's much easier to look at consumer behavior and businesses that have big barriers to entry, citing Gillette as an example of a company with a 70 percent market share for men's razors.

5. Value investing -- what else is there? One person asked about whether Buffett's value investing strategy would apply in South Korea. Buffett said investing is all about value. "What other kind of investing is there?" he asked. "Are we going to have nonvalue investing? Are we going to have tipster investing … dream investing? I've never understood what the alternative is."

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