Warren Buffett is the world’s greatest and most prominent value investor. Unlike other highly successful value investors, Buffett spends a large amount of time doing interviews. There have also been thousands of articles written about him and possibly hundreds of books.
Not only is Buffett the world’s most successful investor, he is also the investing world’s biggest celebrity. In some ways, this success has been a doubled-edged sword.
Since Buffett is a larger-than-life celebrity, his interviews stray away from the topic of investing. At the same time, he has produced so many sound bites on the topic of investing, many have lost their true meaning. For instance, almost all investors know Buffett’s first two rules — “Rule No.1: Never lose money. Rule No.2: Never forget rule No.1.” More often than not, however, I have seen this interpreted as “If I don’t sell, I don’t lose money” — clearly not the right viewpoint at all.
So considering all of the above, in this article I have tried to pull together seven quotes I believe best describe Buffett’s investment process and give essential insight into how the average investor should look for value and high-quality investments. These are not one-liners, they are specifically picked to give as much detail as possible.
How to pick the best businesses:
“I like businesses I can understand. We’ll start with that. That narrows it down about 90%. There are all kinds of things I don’t understand, but fortunately, there’s enough I do understand. You got this big, wide world out there. Almost every company is publicly owned. You got all American business, practically, available to you. Now, to start with, it doesn’t make sense to go with things you think you can[‘t] understand. But you can understand some things. I can understand this (picks up can of Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO)). I mean you can understand this. Anybody can understand this. I mean this is a product that basically hasn’t been changed much since 1886, and it’s a simple business. It’s not an easy business. I don’t want a business that’s easy for competitors. I want a business with a moat around it with a very valuable castle in the middle. And then I want the duke who’s in charge of that castle to be honest and hard-working and able. And then I want a big moat around the castle, and that moat can be various things.
The moat in a business like our auto insurance business at GEICO is low cost. I mean people have to buy auto insurance so everybody’s going to have one auto insurance policy per car, basically, or per driver. And I can’t sell them 20, but they have to buy one. What are they going to buy it on? They’re going to buy it based on service and cost. Most people will assume the service is fairly identical among companies, or close enough, so they’re going to do it on cost, so I gotta be the low-cost producer. That’s my moat. To the extent my costs get further lower than the other guy, I’ve thrown a couple of sharks into the moat.”