Is there any authoritative treatise or publication or book or white paper that explores (with all the math included) that how Warren Buffett really made his money? Something that explores the facts outlined here in more detail. http://www.businessinsider.com/warren-buffetts-investing-strategy-2013-12


Despite Buffett's nearly perfect consistent advice over the past few decades, they don't reflect his earliest days. His modern philosophy seemed to solidify in the 1970s.

You can see that Buffett's earliest days grew faster, at 29.5 % for those partners willing to take on leverage with Buffett, than the last half century, at 19.7%.

Not only is Buffett limited by size, as its quite difficult to squeeze one half trillion USD into sub-billion USD investments, but the economy thus market is far different than it was before the 1980s. He would have to acquire at least 500 billion USD companies outright, and there simply aren't that many available that satisfy all of his modern conditions.

The market is much different now than it was when he first started at Graham-Newman because before the 1960s, the economy thus market would collapse and rebound about every few years. This sort of variance can actually help a value investor because a true value investor will abandon investments when valuations are high and go all in when valuations are low. The most extreme example was when he tried to as quietly as possible buy up an insurance company selling for something like a P/E of 1 during one of the collapses. These kinds of opportunities are seldom available anymore, not even during the 2009 collapse.

As he became larger, those investments became off limits because it simply wasn't worth his time to find such a high returner if it's only a bare fraction of his wealth. Also, he started to deviate from Benjamin Graham's methods and started to incorporate Philip Fisher's.

By the 1970s, his investment philosophy was more or less cemented. He tried to balance Graham's avarice for price with Fisher's for value.

All of the commentary that special tax dodges or cheap financing are central to his returns are false. They contributed, but they are ancillary.

As one can see by comparing the limited vs general partners, leverage helps enormously, but this is still a tangent.

Buffett has undoubtedly built his wealth from the nature of his investments. The exact blueprint can be constructed by reading every word he has published and any quotes he has not disavowed. Simply, he buys the highest quality companies in terms of risk-adjusted growth at the best available prices. Quantitatively, it is a simple strategy to replicate. NFLX was selling very cheaply during the mid-2000s, WDC sells frequently at low valuations, up and coming retailers frequently sell at low valuations, etc.

The key to Buffett's method is emotional control and removing the mental block that price equals value; price is cost, value is revenue, and that concept is the hardest for most to imbibe. Quoting from the first link:

One sidelight here: it is extraordinary to me that the idea of buying dollar bills for 40 cents takes immediately to people or it doesn't take at all. It's like an inoculation. If it doesn't grab a person right away, I find that you can talk to him for years and show him records, and it doesn't make any difference. They just don't seem able to grasp the concept, simple as it is. A fellow like Rick Guerin, who had no formal education in business, understands immediately the value approach to investing and he's applying it five minutes later. I've never seen anyone who became a gradual convert over a ten-year period to this approach. It doesn't seem to be a matter of IQ or academic training. It's instant recognition, or it is nothing.


I'm convinced that there is much inefficiency in the market. These Graham-and-Doddsville investors have successfully exploited gaps between price and value. When the price of a stock can be influenced by a "herd" on Wall Street with prices set at the margin by the most emotional person, or the greediest person, or the most depressed person, it is hard to argue that the market always prices rationally. In fact, market prices are frequently nonsensical.

and finally

Success in investing doesn’t correlate with I.Q. once you’re above the level of 25. Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.

There is almost no information on any who has helped Buffett internally or even managed Berkshire's investments aside from Louis Simpson.

It is unlikely that Buffett has allowed anyone to manage much of Berkshire's investments considering the consistent stream of commentary from him claiming that he nearly does nothing except read annual reports all day to the extent that he may have neglected his family to some degree and that listening to others will more likely hurt performance than help with the most striking example being his father's recommendation that he not open a hedge fund after retiring from Graham-Newman because he believed the market was topping, and he absolutely idolized his father.

| improve this answer | |
  • IQ - You mean above 125? (Last paragraph) – JTP - Apologise to Monica Feb 7 '14 at 18:22
  • Is there anything to show how much of Berkshire's purchases are coming from people other than Buffett? – JB King Feb 7 '14 at 21:14
  • Ordinary intelligence would be IQ 100. The scores are normalized so that 100 is the median IQ, I believe. – JohnFx Jul 7 '15 at 2:30

There is actually a recent paper that attempted to decompose Buffett's outperformance. I've quoted the abstract below:

"Berkshire Hathaway has realized a Sharpe ratio of 0.76, higher than any other stock or mutual fund with a history of more than 30 years, and Berkshire has a significant alpha to traditional risk factors. However, we find that the alpha becomes insignificant when controlling for exposures to Betting-Against-Beta and Quality-Minus-Junk factors. Further, we estimate that Buffett’s leverage is about 1.6-to-1 on average. Buffett’s returns appear to be neither luck nor magic, but, rather, reward for the use of leverage combined with a focus on cheap, safe, quality stocks. Decomposing Berkshires’ portfolio into ownership in publicly traded stocks versus wholly-owned private companies, we find that the former performs the best, suggesting that Buffett’s returns are more due to stock selection than to his effect on management. These results have broad implications for market efficiency and the implementability of academic factors."

| improve this answer | |
  • Interesting, you should cite the source. – rhaskett Jul 6 '15 at 7:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.