Lessons From Warren Buffett

Lessons From Warren Buffett: What Aesop Got Right About Investing

Aesop, the legendary storyteller of antiquity, had one of the most important lessons for investors in his fables, according Warren Buffett.

“The first investment primer that I know of, and it was pretty good advice, was delivered in about 600 B.C. by Aesop. And Aesop, you’ll remember, said ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,’” Warren Buffett said at the 2000 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting. “Now, Aesop was onto something, but he didn’t finish it, because there’s a couple of other questions that go along with that. But it is an investment equation, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. He forgot to say exactly when you were going to get the two in the — from the bush — and he forgot to say what interest rates were that you had to measure this against. But if he’d given those two factors, he would have defined investment for the next 2,600 years. Because a bird in the hand is, you know, you will trade a bird in the hand, which is investing. You lay out cash today. And then the question is, as an investment decision, you have to evaluate how many birds are in the bush. You may think there are two birds in the bush, or three birds in the bush, and you have to decide when they’re going to come out, and when you’re going to acquire them.

Now, if interest rates are five percent, and you’re going to get two birds from the bush in five years, we’ll say, versus one now, two birds in the bush are much better than a bird in the hand now. So you want to trade your bird in the hand and say ‘I’ll take two birds in the bush,’ because if you’re going to get them in five years, that’s roughly 14 percent compounded annually and interest rates are only five percent. But if interest rates were 20 percent, you would decline to take two birds in the bush five years from now. You would say ‘that’s not good enough,’ because at 20 percent, if I just keep this bird in my hand and compound it, I’ll have more birds than two birds in the bush in five years.

Now, what’s all that got to do with growth? Well, usually growth, people associate with a lot more birds in the bush, but you still have to decide when you’re going to get them. And you have to measure that against interest rates, and you have to measure it against other bushes, and other, you know, other equations.

And that’s all investing is. It’s a value decision based on, you know, what it is worth, how many birds are in that bush, when you’re going to get them, and what interest rates are.”

Buffett’s full explanation on Aesop and interest rates

See the complete Lessons From Warren Buffett series

© 2022 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.