Part 4 of our Investing Like Warren Buffett series discusses Berkshire Hathaway’s 1980 Chairman’s letter to shareholders. As always, I will focus on the important points highlighted in this material. Enjoy!!
Click here for 1980 Chairman’s Letter to Shareholders
Warren Buffett on non-controlled ownership earnings;
Non-Controlled Ownership Earnings
When one company owns part of another company, appropriate accounting procedures pertaining to that ownership interest must be selected from one of three major categories. The percentage of voting stock that is owned, in large part, determines which category of accounting principles should be utilized.
Generally accepted accounting principles require (subject to exceptions, naturally, as with our former bank subsidiary) full consolidation of sales, expenses, taxes, and earnings of business holdings more than 50% owned. Blue Chip Stamps, 60% owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc., falls into this category. Therefore, all Blue Chip income and expense items are included in full in Berkshire’s Consolidated Statement of Earnings, with the 40% ownership interest of others in Blue Chip’s net earnings reflected in the Statement as a deduction for “minority interest”.
Full inclusion of underlying earnings from another class of holdings, companies owned 20% to 50% (usually called “investees”), also normally occurs. Earnings from such companies - for example, Wesco Financial, controlled by Berkshire but only 48% owned - are included via a one-line entry in the owner’s Statement of Earnings. Unlike the over-50% category, all items of revenue and expense are omitted; just the proportional share of net income is included. Thus, if Corporation A owns one-third of Corporation B, one-third of B’s earnings, whether or not distributed by B, will end up in A’s earnings. There are some modifications, both in this and the over-50% category, for intercorporate taxes and purchase price adjustments, the explanation of which we will save for a later day. (We know you can hardly wait.)
Finally come holdings representing less than 20% ownership of another corporation’s voting securities. In these cases, accounting rules dictate that the owning companies include in their earnings only dividends received from such holdings. Undistributed earnings are ignored. Thus, should we own 10% of Corporation X with earnings of $10 million in 1980, we would report in our earnings (ignoring relatively minor taxes on intercorporate dividends) either (a) $1 million if X declared the full $10 million in dividends; (b) $500,000 if X paid out 50%, or $5 million, in dividends; or (c) zero if X reinvested all earnings.
Warren Buffett on great investments;
“For capital to be truly indexed, return on equity must rise”. Business earnings consistently must increase in proportion to the increase in the price level without any need for the business to add to capital – including working capital – employed. (Increased earnings produced by increased investment don’t count.) Only a few businesses come close to exhibiting this ability. Berkshire Hathaway isn’t one of them.
Warren Buffett on turnarounds;
“When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for poor fundamental economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.”