"Earnings per share, of course, increased somewhat (about 20%) but we regard this as an improper figure upon which to focus. We had substantially more capital to work with in 1979 than in 1978, and our performance in utilizing that capital fell short of the earlier year, even though per-share earnings rose. "Earnings per share" will rise constantly on a dormant savings account or on a U.S. Savings Bond bearing a fixed rate of return simply because "earnings" (the stated interest rate) are continuously plowed back and added to the capital base. Thus, even a "stopped clock" can look like a growth stock if the dividend payout ratio is low.
A snapshot of Berkshire Hathaway's success in Buffett's first 15 years at the helm:
"The book value per share of Berkshire Hathaway on September 30, 1964 (the fiscal yearend prior to the time that your present management assumed responsibility) was $19.46 per share. At yearend 1979, book value with equity holdings carried at market value was $335.85 per share."
Buffett's not jumping for joy, though, as he notes the high inflation of the times was eating up much of the gain:
"If we should continue to achieve a 20% compounded gain - not an easy or certain result by any means - and this gain is translated into a corresponding increase in the market value of Berkshire Hathaway stock as it has been over the last fifteen years, your after-tax purchasing power gain is likely to be very close to zero at a 14% inflation rate.
One friendly but sharp-eyed commentator on Berkshire has pointed out that our book value at the end of 1964 would have bought about one-half ounce of gold and, fifteen years later, after we have plowed back all earnings along with much blood, sweat and tears, the book value produced will buy about the same half ounce."
On when a bargain is not a bargain:
"Both our operating and investment experience cause us to conclude that "turnarounds" seldom turn, and that the same energies and talent are much better employed in a good business purchased at a fair price than in a poor business purchased at a bargain price."
A line I like (I won't go into the context within the letter; it speaks for itself):
"You do not adequately protect yourself by being half awake while others are sleeping."
In 1979, Berkshire Hathaway debuted on the NASDAQ:
"During 1979, NASDAQ trading was initiated in the stock of Berkshire Hathaway This means that the stock now is quoted on the Over-the-Counter page of the Wall Street journal under "Additional OTC Quotes". Prior to such listing, the Wall Street journal and the Dow-Jones news ticker would not report our earnings, even though such earnings were one hundred or more times the level of some companies whose reports they regularly picked up."
"The reasoning of managements that seek large trading activity in their shares puzzles us. In effect, such managements are saying that they want a good many of the existing clientele continually to desert them in favor of new ones - because you can't add lots of new owners (with new expectations) without losing lots of former owners."
On having a small team with each member carrying big responsibilities:
"This approach produces an occasional major mistake that might have been eliminated or minimized through closer operating controls. But it also eliminates large layers of costs and dramatically speeds decision-making. Because everyone has a great deal to do, a very great deal gets done."
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, & Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10.