Published: Sun, February 25, 2018
Money | By Michele Stevens

Warren Buffett: Investors handicapped by debt miss 'extraordinary opportunities'

Warren Buffett: Investors handicapped by debt miss 'extraordinary opportunities'

Warren Buffett on Saturday lamented his inability to find big companies to buy, and said his goal is to make "one or more huge acquisitions" of non-insurance businesses to bolster results at his conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Buffett's yearly check-in with Berkshire Hathaway investors through his investment letter is a closely watched event on Wall Street.

Abel and Tracy Cool, chief executive of Berkshire's unit, Pampered Chef, are the other Berkshire representatives on Kraft's board.

In the last few years, Buffett, 87, has shed many of his non-Berkshire responsibilities.

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Its head of athletics, Terry Barnum, told the Los Angeles Times in 2015, "Obviously his childhood was a hard time . He also said he had been uncomfortable at Harvard-Westlake as "one of just a handful of minorities" on the campus.

He let investors know why Berkshire, which is now sitting on a record $116 billion in cash, didn't pull the trigger on any mega-deals past year.

The company's often-impressive pace of acquisitions had slowed past year, he noted, when the prices asked for businesses 'hit an all-time high, ' amid what he called 'a purchasing frenzy'.

Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, has a broad financial reach that extends to virtually every part of the economy.

The iPhone maker, which wasn't even a Berkshire holding until the first quarter of 2016, has quickly grown to one of Berkshire's top stock holdings, if not its biggest. The compounded annual return over the last 53 years is 19.1%.

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Previous year was another good one for Berkshire shareholders, as the company's "A" shares rose almost 22%, vs. a gain of 19.4% for the S&P 500, a broad stock market index.

Book value, Buffett's favorite measure of value, is the total amount a company would be worth if it liquidated its assets and paid back all its liabilities. Cash has been piling up at Berkshire, but Buffett said most of the businesses he looked to buy past year were too expensive. And sometimes I will make expensive mistakes.

Buffett says investors shouldn't assume that bonds are less risky than stocks.

"We expect Buffett's annual letter to reassure investors that his health remains remarkable and he intends to be around for awhile", said Cathy Seifert, equity analyst at CFRA Research in NY. The fees - typically 2% of the investment's value and 20% of the profits - eat into clients returns, Buffett argued, and said returns do not typically justify those fees compared to the returns an investor could get from a low-priced S&P 500 index fund.

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Warren Buffett handily won the bet he entered against hedge funds in 2007.

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