Two Important Things We Learned from Buffett’s Latest Shareholders Letter

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Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders came out on Saturday morning, and as usual, it gave great insight into Buffett’s outlook on both Berkshire Hathaway, investing, and his view on the prospects for the American economy.

Here’s two important things we learned:

Buffett is Bullish on the American Economy

Through recessions, and even the recent Great Recession, Warren Buffett has remained bullish on the prospects of the American economy. Competition from China, India or the EU, has not dimmed his optimism, and looking back historically, he still believes there is no better time to have been born into the American economy than today.

“This economic creation will deliver increasing wealth to our progeny far into the future. Yes, the build-up of wealth will be interrupted for short periods from time to time. It will not, however, be stopped. I’ll repeat what I’ve both said in the past and expect to say in future years: Babies born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.”

Buffett Believes that Overall, Hedge Funds Have Sold Snake Oil to Wealthy Investors and Pension Funds

Expanding on a presentation he gave at the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, Buffett again made clear that the high fees charged by Hedge fund managers made it inevitable that overall, they would underperform a simple low-fee S&P 500 index fund. He attributes the siren song that draws the wealthy and pension funds to active management is due to a mistaken belief that you get what you pay for.

“The wealthy are accustomed to feeling that it is their lot in life to get the best food, schooling, entertainment, housing, plastic surgery, sports ticket, you name it. Their money, they feel, should buy them something superior compared to what the masses receive. In many aspects of life, indeed, wealth does command top-grade products or services. For that reason, the financial “elites” – wealthy individuals, pension funds, college endowments and the like – have great trouble meekly signing up for a financial product or service that is available as well to people investing only a few thousand dollars. This reluctance of the rich normally prevails even though the product at issue is –on an expectancy basis – clearly the best choice. My calculation, admittedly very rough, is that the search by the elite for superior investment advice has caused it, in aggregate, to waste more than $100 billion over the past decade. Figure it out: Even a 1% fee on a few trillion dollars adds up. Of course, not every investor who put money in hedge funds ten years ago lagged S&P returns. But I believe my calculation of the aggregate shortfall is conservative.”

© 2017 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.