Continuation of our series on portfolio management and the Buffett Partnership Letters, please see our previous articles for more details. Control, Volatility
“When such a controlling interest is acquired, the assets and earnings power of the business become the immediate predominant factors in value. When a small minority interest in a company is held, earning power and assets are, of course, very important, but they represent an indirect influence on value which, in the short run, may or may not dominate the factors bearing on supply and demand which result in price.”
“Market price, which governs valuation of minority interest positions, is of little or no importance in valuing a controlling interest…When a controlling interest is held, we own a business rather than a stock and a business valuation is appropriate.”
Today, people often reference Buffett’s advice about owning a “business,” not just a “stock.” It’s interesting to note that a prerequisite, at the origin of this advice, involves having a “controlling interest.”
Only to investors with control, do earnings power and assets become the predominant determinants of value. Otherwise, for minority investors, outside factors (such as supply and demand) will impact price movement, which in turn will determine portfolio value fluctuations.
This is strangely similar to Stanley Druckenmiller’s advice: “Valuation only tells me how far the market can go once a catalyst enters the picture...The catalyst is liquidity.” Druckenmiller’s “catalyst” is Buffett’s “factors bearing on supply and demand which result in price.”
“A private owner was quite willing (and in our opinion quite wise) to pay a price for control of the business which isolated stock buyers were not willing to pay for very small fractions of the business.
There’s a (theoretical) Control Premium. There’s also a (theoretical) Liquidity Premium. So (theoretically) the black sheep is the minority position that’s also illiquid.
Then again, all this theoretical talk doesn’t amount to much because investment success is price dependent. Even a minority illiquid position purchased at the right price could be vastly profitable.
Mark to Market, Subscriptions, Redemptions
“We will value our position in Berkshire Hathaway at yearend at a price halfway between net current asset value and book value. Because of the nature of our receivables and inventory this, in effect, amounts to valuation of our current assets at 100 cents on the dollar and our fixed assets at 50 cents on the dollar. Such a value, in my opinion, is fair to both adding and withdrawing partners. It may be either higher or lower than market value at the time.”
We discussed in the past the impact of mark to market decision, and why it’s relevant to those seeking to invest/redeem with/from fund vehicles that contain quasi-illiquid (or esoteric difficult to value) investments yet liquid subscriptions and redemption terms (e.g., hedge funds, certain ETFs and Closed End Funds). Click here, and scroll to section at bottom ,for more details.
“I certainly do not believe the standards I utilize (and wish my partners to utilize) in measuring my performance are the applicable ones for all money managers. But I certainly do believe anyone engaged in the management of money should have a standard of measurement, and that both he and the party whose money is managed should have a clear understanding why it is the appropriate standard, what time period should be utilized, etc.”
“Frankly I have several selfish reasons for insisting that we apply a yardstick and that we both utilize the same yardstick. Naturally, I get a kick out of beating part…More importantly, I ensure that I will not get blamed for the wrong reasons (having losing years) but only for the right reasons (doing poorer than the Dow). Knowing partners will grade me on the right basis helps me do a better job. Finally, setting up the relevant yardsticks ahead of time insures that we will all get out of this business if the results become mediocre (or worse). It means that past successes cannot cloud judgment of current results. It should reduce the chance of ingenious rationalizations of inept performance.”
Time Management, Team Management, Clients
“…our present setup unquestionably lets me devote a higher percentage of my time to thinking about the investment process than virtually anyone else in the money management business. This, of course, is the result of really outstanding personnel and cooperative partners.”
The skill set required for client servicing is completely different from the skills required for investment management. But unfortunately, most investors/funds have clients that require servicing.
Some are fortunate enough to have team resources that shoulder the majority of client obligations. Yet, the client component never disappears completely. Disappearance may be wishful thinking, though minimization is certainly a possibility.
Reflect upon your procedures and processes – what changes could you implement in order to make a claim similar to the one that Buffett makes above?