Search Results for: munger

Berkshire Hathaway Post-Shareholder Meeting CNBC Interview 2019 Full Video, Full Transcript (Buffett, Munger, and Gates)

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On the Monday after the recent Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting, Becky Quick of CNBC did another 2-hour interview with Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, and Bill Gates. CNBC has thankfully posted the entire interview online along with a full transcript.

As usual, I like things directly from the source, so I watched the entire thing. Here are my notes that deal with investing:

Warren Buffet-style value investing distilled. You start out by picking a good business first. Then, you pay attention to the price. If the price is good, you buy. If the price is not attractive, you don’t. You can’t predict the mood of Mr. Market, he may be depressed or manic. (If it’s not a good business, then skip it no matter the price.)

But we watch the prices of things we do more than current events. Because in the end– we aren’t buyin’ ‘em because what’s gonna happen next month or next quarter. You know,we’re really buying ’em because we think they’ll be good businesses ten years from now. If somebody came to us with a good business today, we’d buy it. And we’d buy it regardless of what’s going on in the tariff situation. We might this wouldn’t be the case. But you might– we’re more likely perhaps to get something when other people are– fearful. You see that in a big way instantly in the market, you know, in the market for businesses. It’s– but it’s–still there in people’s minds.

On share buybacks and Apple. Share repurchases, or buybacks, are when a company buys its own shares outstanding. People argue about how this is “good” or “bad”, when really it’s all just rather pointless.

Repurchases can be the dumbest thing in the world or the smartest thing in the world. and I’ve seen both but they’re just — repurchases by the company are just like purchases to us, they’re dumb a one price and smart at another price. And I like it when companies — I like it when we’re invested in companies where they understand that. Many companies just repurchase and repurchase, you know, it’s the thing to do, and they’re encouraged to by some shareholders and by their brokers. Repurchases can be dumb. They can be smart. At Apple, they’ve been smart.

Berkshire has never bought at stock at IPO. Here’s a simple thought model that shows why buying a new-issue stock on IPO is nothing to get excited about.

WARREN BUFFETT: Well, because I looked at it, I really don’t want to discuss Uber. And I don’t have any special feelings about it than any other coming to market. But I would say that in 54 years — well, I don’t think Berkshire’s ever going to – I mean, the idea of saying the best place in the world I can put my money is something where all of the selling incentives are there, commissions are higher, you know, the animal spirits are rising. I mean, that’s going to be better than 1,000 other things I can buy where there is no similar selling enthusiasm and the desire to get the deal done on extra commissions. That’s the single best thing to buy on a given day. I mean, it’s –

CHARLIE MUNGER: And I can’t think of a time we’ve ever done it.

WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah.

BECKY QUICK: Ever bought an IPO.

CHARLIE MUNGER: Yeah. Never will.

When asked about a book recommendation, Buffett said The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates. There are some other practical observations about topics like politics and healthcare, if that floats your boat.

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Charlie Munger: Financially Independent at Age 38 in 1962

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Despite the fresh packaging, we should remember that the “FIRE” concept (Financially Independent, Retire Early) is anything but a new concept. Even I can’t help being a little intrigued by the clickbait title “This Secret Trick Let This Couple Retire at 38”. Such an article could have been written about the 95-year-old Charlie Munger before he started investing alongside Warren Buffett:

The first 13 years I practiced law, my income [from practicing law] was $300,000 total. At the end of that 13 years, what did I have? A house. Two cars. And $300,000 of liquid assets. Everyone else’d have spent that slender income, not invested it shrewdly, and so forth.

I just think it was, to me, it was as natural as breathing, and of course I knew how compound interest worked! I knew when I saved $10 I was really saving $100 or $1,000 [because of the future growth of the $10], and it just took a little wait. And when I quit law practice it was because I wanted to work for myself instead of my clients, because I knew I could do better than they did.

Net worth analysis. According to his Wikipedia bio, the 95-year-old Munger graduated from law school in 1948. Let’s say he practiced law from 1949 to 1962. At the end of those 13 years, he states that he had $300,000 in liquid assets, a house, and two cars. The median value for a Los Angeles area house in 1962 was about $15,000. The median cost of a new car in 1962 was about $3,000. Adding this all up means his net worth in 1962 was about $321,000.

That was a significant amount of money in 1962. According this CPI inflation calculator, that is the equivalent of $2.7 million in 2019 dollars. In other words, the Munger household was financially independent when he was 38 years old.

Income analysis. He also states that in those 13 years as a lawyer, he made $300,000 total. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say he earned the same income every year. That works out to $23,000 per year. This was a relatively high income – $193,000 per year in 2019 dollars. According to this source, the median family income in 1962 was $6,000 per year. That means he was earning about four times the median average household income.

Super-saver, super-investor, or a little of both? Maybe he shared this somewhere else, but I don’t know his saving rate or his investment return. He does boast of both not spending all that “slender” income and also about investing it “shrewdly”. We have his annual income and his final ending net worth, so you can set one and figure out the other using a compound return formula. I’m assuming everything is after-tax for simplicity again.

  • Let’s say he was a super-saver with a 50% saving rate. That means he saved $11,500 every year and invested it for 13 years. That would work out to an 10.5% annual compounded rate of return.
  • Let’s say he was a super-investor with a 20% annual compounded rate of return. That would work out to an annual savings of $5,500 per year, or a 24% savings rate.

I found that the annualized return of the S&P 500 index from January 1949 to January 1962 was about 18% when you include dividends (source). Thus, my guess is that he was somewhere between these two markers: 50% savings rate/10.5% annual investment return and 24% savings rate/20% annual investment return. These stats are definitely admirable and impressive, but also show that he didn’t hit the lottery or anything crazy.

Munger’s example reaffirms that if you have a relatively high income, save a high percentage of that income, AND invest that money into productive assets, your net worth will grow quite quickly.

A criticism of financial independence seekers is that it is pitched to “everyone” but only works for the rich. It is absolutely true that it is the easiest for high-income earners. How could it be any other way? At the same time, there are many households that earn high incomes that spend 95%+ of it every year. If these folks realize they have financial independence within their grasp, and then change their behavior to achieve it, I still view that as a positive thing. It’s always hard to spend less than the people you hang around with.

In our case, we both eventually earned six-figures, but not the entire time. When we earned a combined $60,000 a year, we lived on $30,000. When we earned a combined $100,000, we lived on $50,000 per year. When we earned $200,000, we lived on under $100,000. Would we have been able to maintain the 50% savings rate on a $60,000 income for 15 years? I’ll never know. I know it would have been much more difficult, and I’m glad we didn’t have to try. I’m also glad we started when we were young and without kids.

Managing expenses (frugality) alone will not get you there, but I still believe it is an important factor once you get your income to a certain level. I would argue that a household earning $100,000 and spending $50,000 per year is much better off in the long run than a household earning $150,000 and spending $125,000 or even $100,000 per year. Now, if someone is making minimum wage, it will be hard to have a lot left over to invest. Your efforts would be best focused on the income side of the equation.

Bottom line. Charlie Munger was born in 1924 and reached financial independence at age 38 from his earnings as a lawyer (before he became partners with Warren Buffet). While he is now best known as a billionaire investor, he took a familiar path to financial independence: solid 9-5 income, consistently high saving rate, and prudent investment of the difference. The same formula he started using in 1949 remains available 70 years later to someone starting in 2019.

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Charlie Munger 2019 Wall Street Journal Interview Transcript

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The best thing I read today was definitely Charlie Munger, Unplugged, the full transcript of a 6-hour interview with Charlie Munger about his philosophies on business, investing and life, as conducted by Jason Zweig and Nicole Friedman of the Wall Street Journal. (I’ve tried to share a link via my paid WSJ subscription, but there may still be a paywall. Articles like this definitely help make me feel that my subscription is worth the money.)

I enjoy Munger’s direct and open take on many things. Honestly, I think reading his advice helps make me a better person, not investor. Also, he’s a 95-year-old billionaire – can you imagine anyone more incentivized to do exactly what they want with their remaining time? The article is rather long, so while I recommend reading the entire thing for yourself, here are some selected highlights.

How do you spend your day?

Well, I have always sought, since I quit law practice [in 1965], to have a lot of time in every day to read and think. And talk to a few friends about this or that. And I don’t do that because it will make me more money, I do it because it’s my nature. And I had to use that nature because I needed a living for a big family. But it’s just my nature.

Warren’s the same way. We both hate too many appointments in one day. We both have long segments [of free time]. The lives we live would look to anybody else like academics.

Will Berkshire Hathaway beat the S&P 500 in the future?

I think it we’ll beat it a little. But that’s not bad with a market cap of over $600 billion. That’s difficult! Most people won’t do as well as we will. I talked to Warren today. We’re buying one little company…as we sit here. And we haven’t bought anything big for a long, long time. It’s really getting hard for us. These other people will pay a lot more.

Q: If there were one company other than Berkshire you would recommend for the next decade or two, what would it be?

In America it would be Costco. Other than in America, buy the strongest companies in China.

Q: A lot of young Americans seem to be turning against capitalism, on the grounds that income inequality is out of control. What can be done about that?

The world as I know it, from personal experience and from reading, has always concentrated power.

Without the inequality, you don’t get modern private-ownership capitalism, which is what produces the plenty. And so even your kids, if they tried to make an equal civilization, and farm the land that way, would end up with not enough to eat. You’ve got to have individual ownership of a lot of things, with somebody getting and gaining for himself, because otherwise you don’t get the plenty. And the only option you have is to make the social safety net big or small, and you can make it stupid or [you can make it] wise[r], the richer you are.

In other words, the better your inequality-producing civilization that produces the plenty is, the more you’ve got to put into the social safety net. Now if you get a place like Denmark or Sweden or something, a lot of these modern students would like it better, free education, free medical care and so forth. And if you have to bet, the United States will be way more like Canada pretty soon, in terms of more free education at the university level and more Medicare and some kind of medicine for all. And that we can afford without ruining the productivity of the civilization.

…. We can afford [a higher minimum wage]. If you make it too high it will be counterproductive but yes, a prosperous civilization can have a higher minimum wage the way it can have a social safety net. Don’t make it too great and you can afford it.

I have more Democratic children than I have Republican children. I’ve got both.

On Jack Bogle.

You’ve got to remember, Bogle happened to be right about something important. But that [was] his only advantage. He was a monomaniac. And so that’s an odd characteristic. I would not pick Bogle to have the run of the place. He just was very right on one very important subject [the importance of minimizing investment costs], and therefore he’s been very useful.

On payday lenders, the lottery, and legalized gambling.

These goddamn payday lenders, they’re the scum of the earth. Everybody’s working on it but not hard enough. That’s a group that ought to be forced out of existence.

And the way we abuse the poor with the lottery! Think of how contrary it is to the interests of the poor to play the lottery. It’s like a tax on ignorance. They’re vulnerable. I don’t think we should be doing that, but of course everything like it I’m voting against. I always vote against legalized gambling. I just lose all the time. I feel like I’m pushing on a straw and somebody is just pushing back harder every time.

On selfishness and the value of a good reputation.

Another thing that really helps is people, a lot of people think that real selfishness, very extreme, is what works. But it doesn’t.

If you have a reputation for being decent to work with and unselfish, you make more money, not less. And at Berkshire, I can’t tell you the things that we have bought where the people wanted a good home for something that they love and they trusted us to take care of their loved one. That sounds ridiculous to talk about, in that language about businesses. But why wouldn’t you love something you spent your life building up? It’s very natural to love it – it’s your own creation. Of course you want it in good hands.

On his ability to delay gratification (aka “frugal cred”).

The first 13 years I practiced law, my income [from practicing law] was $300,000 total. At the end of that 13 years, what did I have? A house. Two cars. And $300,000 of liquid assets. Everyone else’d have spent that slender income, not invested it shrewdly, and so forth.

I just think it was, to me, it was as natural as breathing, and of course I knew how compound interest worked! I knew when I saved $10 I was really saving $100 or $1,000 [because of the future growth of the $10], and it just took a little wait. And when I quit law practice it was because I wanted to work for myself instead of my clients, because I knew I could do better than they did.

On opportunities.

You only get a few opportunities, and you have to grab them aggressively when they come because even in the most favored life, they’re really rare. My mother listened to all this stuff, and it meant nothing to her. She was never interested in money or worldly success, but she just appropriated the stories to me because they’d amused her.

I always feel that the opportunities are rare. I only get a few and then I have to seize them aggressively.

This last quote is definitely something that I strongly associate with Munger. Even in this interview, you notice he says it twice. It’s something to keep in the back of your mind, whether is applies to an investing opportunity, a career opportunity, or even finding a life partner. Work hard, do your analysis, but in the end you’ll have to take action to get the big results.

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Charlie Munger CNBC Interview 2019 Full Video, Full Transcript, and Notes

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Here’s another Charles T. Munger interview (last one for a while, I promise!) for those of you that share a peculiar fondness for hearing someone encourage rationality, patience, and self-discipline. After the Daily Journal 2019 annual meeting, Munger did a 30-minute interview with Becky Quick of CNBC. (See similar Buffett CNBC interview.) I guess they forgave Munger’s jabs at Jim Cramer, as they posted the entire interview online along with a full transcript.

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t get as many gems out of this interview as some of his other stuff. Here was my favorite part.

The secrets to life can also fit on an index card? As Munger noted earlier, “If it’s trite, it’s right”. We’ve seen personal finance advice fit on an index card, so why not life advice as well?

BECKY QUICK: Charlie, so many of the people who come here come because they’re looking for advice not on business or investments as much as they’re looking for just advice on life. There were a lot of questions today, people trying to figure out what the secret to life is, to a long and happy life. And– and I just wonder, if you were–

CHARLIE MUNGER: Now that is easy, because it’s so simple.

BECKY QUICK: What is it?

CHARLIE MUNGER: You don’t have a lot of envy, you don’t have a lot of resentment, you don’t overspend your income, you stay cheerful in spite of your troubles. You deal with reliable people and you do what you’re supposed to do. And all these simple rules work so well to make your life better. And they’re so trite.

BECKY QUICK: How old were you when you figured this out?

CHARLIE MUNGER: About seven. I could tell that some of my older people were a little bonkers. I’ve always been able to recognize that other people were a little bonkers. And it helped me because there’s so much irrationality in the world. And I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, its causes and its preventions, and so forth, that I– sure it’s helped me.

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Charlie Munger Daily Journal Annual Meeting 2019 Full Video, Full Transcript, and Notes

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If you like hearing Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger talk at the Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) annual meeting, you should also watch or listen to Charlie Munger at the Daily Journal (DJCO) annual meeting. DJCO is his personal pet project, and I feel like he lets loose more at this meeting than at BRK. For 2019, CNBC broadcast the entire 2-hour Q&A session online. Latticework Investing generously shares a full transcript as well. I choose to listen to this over any finance-related podcast.

Here are my personal notes and highlights:

Think for yourself.

[…] my definition of being properly educated is being right when the professor is wrong. Anybody can spit back what the professor tells you. The trick is to know when he’s right and when he’s wrong. That’s the properly educated person.

Index funds have become more and more successful for a simple reason. The evidence is getting stronger over time that they provide better long-term performance due to lower costs and better tax-effeciency.

Another issue of course that’s happened in the world of stock picking, where all this money and effort goes into trying to be rational, is that we’ve had a really horrible thing happen to the investment counseling class. And that is these index funds have come along and they basically beat everybody. And not only that, the amount by which they beat everybody is roughly the amount of cost of running the operation and making the changes in investments. So you have a whole profession that is basically being paid for accomplishing practically nothing. This is very peculiar. This is not the case with bowel surgery or even the criminal defense bar in the law or something. They have a whole profession where the chosen activity they’ve selected they can’t do anything.

[…] I don’t have any solution for this problem. I do think that index investing, if everybody did it won’t work. But for another considerable period, index investing is going to work better than active stock picking where you try and know a lot.

If you are trying to beat the indexes, you need LESS diversification, not more. Wait for a few fat pitches and don’t hesitate to swing. This isn’t as widely known, but Munger’s personal portfolio is roughly 1/3rd Berkshire Hathaway stock, 1/3rd Costco stock, and 1/3rd invested in Li Lu, an investment manager based in China.

But the whole trick of the game is to have a few times when you know that something is better than average and to invest only where you have that extra knowledge. And then if you get just a few opportunities that’s enough. What the hell do you care if you own three securities and J.P. Morgan Chase owns a hundred? What’s wrong with owning a few securities?

[…] So the whole idea of diversification when you’re looking for excellence, is totally ridiculous. It doesn’t work. It gives you an impossible task.

Now at a place like Berkshire Hathaway or even the Daily Journal, we’ve done better than average. And now there’s a question, why has that happened? Why has that happened? And the answer is pretty simple. We tried to do less. We never had the illusion we could just hire a bunch of bright young people and they would know more than anybody about canned soup and aerospace and utilities and so on and so on and so on. We never had that dream. We never thought we could get really useful information on all subjects like Jim Cramer pretends to have. (laughter) We always realized that if we worked very hard we can find a few things where we were right. And that a few things were enough. And that that was a reasonable expectation.

Avoid any pitches that promise easy money from stock-picking. Penny stocks, day-trading, trends, charts. All of them.

Then if you take the modern world where people are trying to teach you how to come in and trade actively in stocks. Well I regard that as roughly equivalent to trying to induce a bunch of young people to start off on heroin. It is really stupid. And when you’re already rich to make your money by encouraging people to get rich by trading? And then there are people on the TV, another wonderful place, and they say, “I have this book that will teach you how to make 300 percent a year. All you have to do is pay for shipping and I will mail it to you!” (laughter) How likely is it that a person who suddenly found a way to make 300 percent a year would be trying to sell books on the internet to you! (laughter) It’s ridiculous.

Have modest expectations in stock market returns.

Well, my advice for a seeker of compound interest that works ideally is to reduce your expectations. Because I think it’s going to be tougher for a while. And it helps to have realistic expectations. Makes you less crazy. I think that…you know they say that common stocks from the aftermath of the Great Depression, which was the worst in the English speaking world in hundreds of years, to the present time may be an index that’s produced 10 percent. Well that’s pre-inflation. After inflation it may be 7 percent or something. And the difference between 7 and 10 in terms of its consequences are just hugely dramatic over that long period of time. And if that’s 7 in real terms, but achieved starting at a perfect period and through the greatest boom in history, starting now it could well be 3 percent or 2 percent in real terms. It’s not unthinkable you’d have 5 percent returns and 3 percent inflation or some ghastly consequences like that. The ideal way to cope with that is to say, “If that happens, I can have a happy life.”

Be very careful about who you chose to partner up with in your life.

We all know people that are out married, I mean their spouses are so much better. Think of what a good decision that was for them. And what a lucky decision. Way more important than money. A lot of them did it when they were young, they just stumbled into it. Now you don’t have to stumble into it, you can be very careful. A lot of people are wearing signs, “Danger. Danger. Do not touch.” And people just charged right ahead. (laughter) That’s a mistake. Well you can laugh but it’s still a horrible mistake.

On becoming rich.

This business of controlling the costs and living simply, that was the secret. Warren and I had tiny little bits of money. We always underspent our incomes and invested. And if you live long enough you end up rich. It’s not very complicated.

“If it’s trite it’s right.”

I think personal discipline, personal morality, good colleagues, good ideas, all the simple stuff. I’d say, if you want to carry one message from Charlie Munger it’s this, “If it’s trite it’s right.” All those old virtues, they all work.

My general idea is there’s no point in fretting too much about what you can’t fix. It’s a big mistake to fill yourself with resentments and hatreds and so on. It’s such a simple idea but so many people ruin their lives unnecessarily. Envy is such a stupid thing to have because you can’t possibly have any fun with that particular sin. Who in the hell ever had any fun in envy? What good could envy possibly do for you? And somebody is always going to be doing better than you are. It’s really stupid. So my system at life is to figure out what’s really stupid and avoid it. It doesn’t make me popular, but it prevents a lot of trouble.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Charlie Munger’s Life as a Financial Independence Blueprint

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blueprintCharles Munger is probably best known as the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and partner of Warren Buffett. The University of Michigan Ross School of Business recently shared a hour-long talk with Munger on YouTube (embedded below). Munger has plenty of mentions on this site already, but my main takeaway from this talk was a more nuanced overview of his early years and how he personally achieved financial independence before really getting involved with Warren Buffett.

Here is a summary of my notes from the talk:

  • He was not born poor, but he was also not born into exceptional wealth. Munger wanted to go to Stanford for undergrad, but his father encouraged him to go to the University of Michigan as it was still an excellent school but more affordable. He ended up dropping out after only one year in 1943 to serve in the US Army Air Corps.
  • Military service, then law school. After World War II, he took college courses with the GI Bill and eventually went to Harvard Law School (getting accepted even though he never earned an undergraduate degree).
  • Successful law career. He practiced as a successful real estate lawyer until he achieved about $300,000 in assets. This was 10 years of living expenses for his family at the time (he now had a wife and multiple kids). At this point, he started doing real estate development at the same time. When this took off, he stopped practicing law.
  • Successful real estate development. When he achieved about $3 to $4 million in assets, he also wound down his real estate development firm. He was now “financially independent” but still mostly anonymous.
  • At this point, he decided to become a “full-time capitalist”. This last stage is what led him to his current status as a billionaire philanthropist. Along with his work with Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway, he was also the chairman of Wesco Financial, which also grew to be a conglomerate of different wholly-owned businesses along with a carefully-run stock portfolio. Wesco Financial eventually became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.

Using Charlie Munger’s life as a blueprint, here’s a pathway towards financial independence.

  • Work hard, get an education, develop a valuable skill. Munger didn’t start Facebook from his dorm room or trade penny stocks in high school. He served in the military, earned a law degree, and went to work everyday for years. At this point, work means exchanging your time for money, but hopefully at a good hourly rate.
  • Use that work career and save up 10x living expenses. Munger called himself a “cautious little squirrel” saving up a pile of nuts. He dutifully saved his salary while supporting a family and kids (and some other personal family drama that a luckier person wouldn’t have to deal with). I don’t think you’ll need 10x if you don’t have a family to support.
  • To accelerate wealth accumulation, you can now take some more risk and start some sort of business. You need something that scales, something that’s not paid per hour. Munger did real estate development. If you look at people who got wealthy quickly, nearly all of them are business owners of some type.
  • At some point, your investments will enough money to support your living expenses. This is financial independence. It doesn’t matter what you do during the day, as you earn enough money while you’re sleeping. However, many people choose to continue doing one of the paths above: (1) employee-based career, (2) active business management, or (3) actively managing their investments.

Bottom line. Charlie Munger offers up great words of wisdom in this talk. He reminds us that our choice in marriage is much more important than our choice in career. He reminds us that just showing up every day and plugging away will yield great dividends over time. He reminds us that easy wealth without work is not a good thing for society. (He also says to give Bitcoin a wide berth.)

However, you can also learn a lot by noting and observing his actions. Munger was not a huge risk-taker. He grew his wealth in steps and never exposed his family to possible ruin. He worked hard for a long time and only became extraordinarily rich and famous later in his life. He primarily wanted to be independent “and just overshot”.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Buffett and Munger: S&P 500 vs. Berkshire Hathaway

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brk2016letInstead of watching the entire 6-hour Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) annual shareholder’s meeting, I first read through the WSJ highlights and then watched selected parts of the Yahoo Finance replay which interested me.

One interesting topic was about Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger’s directions to their heirs. Buffett has famously directed his wife to put 90% of her assets into a Vanguard S&P 500 index fund and 10% into US Treasuries. In contrast, Munger has told his family “not be so dumb as to sell” their Berkshire stock. Why do they differ?

You can see this question at the 1:39:55 marker in the video. Here are my notes:

  • Buffett initially tries to deflect this question by stating that 100% of his BRK stock will be given to charity. However, there would be nothing stopping her from buying BRK shares (or any other investment) at a later time, so that doesn’t really answer the question.
  • Both Buffett and Munger have previously stated that they believe that Berkshire will likely perform better than the S&P 500 in the future.
  • Buffett’s wife will have more money than she needs. Maximizing upside is not important. Downside protection is most important.
  • In terms of investment performance, both are quite unlikely to suffer permanent loss, but the S&P 500 is still a little bit more reliable than BRK. There is still some chance that there could be a change in culture or executive leadership that might damage the company. Someone might succeed in breaking up Berkshire into parts.
  • The 10% in short-term US Treasuries (essentially cash) goes even further, in case there is long severe depression or even if the stock exchange is closed, there will be cash on hand to handle things.
  • In terms of human issues, it would be a news event if she had BRK shares and sold them. The media would care. Talking heads would offer alternatives. However, if she holds the S&P 500 index fund, that is so boring that it is quite likely nobody will ever bother her again. From all that I have read, never being bothered again sounds like something she would enjoy. (Most people don’t even know her name or what she looks like.)
  • Munger concedes that the S&P 500 as well-constructed as a diversified portfolio of large companies. In terms of performance, it is “all but impossible for most people [to beat].” However, he’s still telling his family to stick with Berkshire.

Buffett and Munger are exceptionally rational as opposed to emotional. Therefore, both answers will most likely work out fine. Sometime in the next 50 years, the stock market will probably drop 50% again. The fact that Buffett thinks the S&P 500 is safer than even Berkshire is something to remember the next time there is a stock market crisis.

At the same time, Munger’s comments should make a current BRK shareholder feel more secure in holding shares for decades to come. Even with Buffett’s shares going to charity, there will still be a large chunk of shareholders with a long-term view.

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Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor Book Review

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mungercompleteI’ve just finished reading new book Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor by Tren Griffin. For the unaware, you can read the Wikipedia for Charles T. Munger, otherwise probably best know as the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and partner of Warren Buffett. The book is meant to corral all the various sources of Munger teachings into a “unified theory” of investing. As is my practice, here are my favorite highlights of the book followed by a quick review. I will try to clearly separate what are Munger quotes and Griffin book excerpts.

First, some good sentences on why learning from reading is awesome (Griffin):

The point is not to treat anyone like a hero, but rather to consider whether Munger, like his idol Benjamin Franklin, may have qualities, attributes, systems, or approaches to life that we may want to emulate, even in part. This same process explains why Munger has read hundreds of biographies. Learning from the success and failure of others is the fastest way to get smarter and wiser without a lot of pain.

Munger on efficient markets:

I think it is roughly right that the market is efficient, which makes it very hard to beat merely by being an intelligent investor. But I don’t think it’s totally efficient at all. And the difference between being totally efficient and somewhat efficient leaves an enormous opportunity for people like us to get these unusual records. It’s efficient enough, so it’s hard to have a great investment record. But it’s by no means impossible. Nor is it something that only a very few people can do. The top three or four percent of the investment management world will do fine.

The book also serves as a good introduction to value investing based on Benjamin Graham’s teachings. Griffin emphasizes the fact that it is about patience and waiting around a mispriced asset to appear. It is not about forecasting the future. Griffin:

Successful Graham value investors spend most of their time reading and thinking, waiting for significant folly to inevitably raise its head. Although Graham value investors are bullish about the market in the long term, they do not making investing decisions based on short-term predictions about stocks or markets.

What kind of qualities does any person owning stocks need (even index funds)? Here’s what Munger said when once asked about how much he worried about a big drop in the value of Berkshire:

Zero. This is the third time Warren and I have seen our holdings in Berkshire Hathaway go down, top tick to bottom tick, by 50%. I think it’s in the nature of long term shareholding of the normal vicissitudes, of worldly outcomes, of markets that the long-term holder has his quoted value of his stocks go down by say 50%. In fact you can argue that if you’re not willing to react with equanimity to a market price decline of 50% two or three times a century you’re not fit to be a common shareholder and you deserve the mediocre result you’re going to get compared to the people who do have the temperament, who can be more philosophical about these market fluctuations.

Why professional money managers don’t make big alpha (Munger):

For most professional money managers, if you’ve got four children to put through college and you’re earning $400,000 or $1 million or whatever, the last thing in the world you would want to be worried about is having gumption. You care about survival, and the way you survive is just not doing anything that might make you stand out.

Munger has been talking about the link between behavioral psychology and investing before it was popularized by books and mainstream media. There are many sources of misjudgments, but I like that he covers many of the more subtle ones that I put under “help me live a good life” more than “help me make more money”. Take envy and jealousy (Munger):

The idea of caring that someone is making money faster [than you] is one of the deadly sins. Envy is a really stupid sin because it’s the only one you could never possibly have any fun at. There’s a lot of pain and no fun. Why would you want to get on the trolley?

On drug and alcohol addiction, this is Griffin writing about Munger:

His timeless advice is to avoid situations with a massive downside and a small upside (negative optionality). Why play dice with something that can ruin your life forever?

Commentary. This book was a solid, short introduction to the world of Charlie Munger from an investing point of view. It has a ton of Munger quotes, but Griffin also does a solid job weaving in quotes from other famous investors like Warren Buffett and Seth Klarman. If you are a fan of Warren Buffett, you will like this book.

Of course, what makes Munger special to me is that he talks about stuff beyond investing, like ethics and morality. For example, I liked that he points out the lifetime benefits of simply “being reliable”. So many workers are just not reliable. Therefore, for a more complete picture, I recommend reading Poor Charlie’s Almanack, which includes transcripts of all his talks, lectures, and public commentary. Reasons for why it is not more popular include the length (really long) and the cost ($50+). After reading and digesting it all, I feel it was fifty bucks well spent. However, if you choose to skip the Almanack, I’d say you’d get $15 of value out of this book.

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Charlie Munger: The First $100,000 Is The Most Difficult

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There used to be a series of ING commercials where people would carry around their “Number”, which was usually over a million dollars. I think such large numbers actually discourage most savers, so what if we had an alternative goal that was both more achievable yet realistic?

I’m currently reading a new book called Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor by Tren Griffin because, well, I like to read anything about Charlie Munger. There is a lot of good stuff related to investing inside, but it didn’t mention one of my favorite personal finance quotes from Mr. Munger. I can’t seem to find an exact reference anymore, so here are two paraphrased sources…

First, here is an excerpt from the 2003 book Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger by Janet Lowe (my review):

Munger has said that accumulating the first $100,000 from a standing start, with no seed money, is the most difficult part of building wealth. Making the first million was the next big hurdle. To do that a person must consistently underspend his income. Getting wealthy, he explains, is like rolling a snowball. It helps to start on top of a long hill—start early and try to roll that snowball for a very long time. It helps to live a long life.

Second, here is another version of the quote credit to Munger, per Conservative Income Investor:

“The first $100,000 is a bitch, but you gotta do it. I don’t care what you have to do—if it means walking everywhere and not eating anything that wasn’t purchased with a coupon, find a way to get your hands on $100,000. After that, you can ease off the gas a little bit.”

$100,000 is certainly a nice, round number. But is it a worthy goal? Consider these points:

Most people will never achieve $100k in portfolio assets. Forget a million bucks. Consider this chart from the Quartz article America is full of high-earning poor people. On average, even a person earning close to six figures will struggle to reach $100k in financial assets by age 55.

The figure below plots financial assets held by the upper middle class (household income from $50,000 to $75,000, and $75,000 to $100,000) aged 40 to 55. Financial assets are any assets a household owns that isn’t a house, car, or business, which means it includes all retirement funds.

networth100k

If you reach $100k quickly, that means you have high earning power. Let’s say you start a successful small business or are in a well-paid professional field. Well, you have the saving potential to reach the millionaire level, you just have to keep it by not increasing your spending accordingly.

If you reach $100k gradually, that means you have built up a strong habit of spending less than you earn. Let’s say it takes you a decade of steady saving to reach $100k. That’s okay, as you’ve shown that have both consistent earning power and spending restraint. You’ll be able to save another $100k over the next decade for sure, meanwhile your first $100k is going to keep on growing.

At the $100,000 level, compound interest become significant. At 5% return, your $100,000 will grow by $5,000 in just one year. That’s $5,000 for doing nothing but waiting around for a year. The year after that, you won’t just have another $5,000. You’ll have $5,250 due to compound interest. At the end of five years, that $100k is already $127,628.

Add in the additional money from your continuing habit of saving, and things start to improve quickly. Your snowball is growing. I no longer automatically reinvest my dividends from my taxable mutual fund and ETF holdings because I love seeing the money show up in my cash account. A few clicks and I’ll reinvest them, but I like the feeling of “cashing my dividend checks” and knowing that one day I’ll be waiting for them to arrive instead of my paycheck.

Now, I still think savings rate is a better measuring stick than portfolio size, because someone who can earn $60k and spend $30k every year is going to be able to retire much sooner than someone who earns $180k and is stuck in a lifestyle spending $150k. But if you are in the phase of your life where you love watching your account balances grow every day, even by a few dollars (been there, done that), $100k is the biggest goal you need.

Related: Munger: Work For Yourself An Hour Each Day and Munger on Parenting and Childhood.

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Charlie Munger On Leverage and Paying Your Mortgage Off Before Retirement

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housemoneyWhile reading back through various transcript notes from the 2015 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, I recalled the following quote from the Q&A session. A shareholder had asked why Berkshire had never borrowed money to buy stocks (i.e. leverage). Charlie Munger replied:

It’s obviously true. If we’d used the leverage that some others did, Berkshire would have been much bigger … but we would have been sweating at night. And it’s crazy to sweat at night.

This is an important point, as many other similar investors have used leverage to boost their returns (not always, but some with success). Buffett and Munger certainly could have justified such an action, especially given their excellent investment track record.

Munger did not make this jump, but I believe but an individual investor could also apply this quote to paying off their mortgage early. Even I enjoy discussing the details of mortgage payoff vs. retirement savings, and acknowledge that mortgage interest rates are low while stock returns are historically higher. Why use your money to pay off your mortgage when you could invest in stocks instead?

The problem is that if you are putting off paying off your mortgage just so you can invest in stocks, you are using leverage! That is, you are taking borrowed money and then putting it at risk. That may increase your overall returns, but it will also increase your exposure to bad outcomes. For most people – not everyone, but most – paying off your mortgage debt will help you sleep better at night. Based on his biography, Warren Buffett himself bought a house in cash when he got married. Even though he was confident he would have made more money by putting those funds toward his investment partnership, he chose not to have a mortgage.

In addition, many financial advisors are incentivized to maximize the amount of your money that they manage, as they can’t earn any fees off your home equity. Wes Moss, a fee-only advisor and Money Matters radio show host, ignores that and gives blunt advice in his book You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think:

Sooner or later, every homeowner asks the simple question, “Should I pay off my mortgage?” and immediately gets bombarded with a variety of complicated, hedged responses. Here is the simplest possible answer: Yes. If you are anywhere near retirement and can afford to pay off your mortgage, you should.

I view this as an example of how real-world, experience-based advice can differ from theoretical, academic-based advice. Humans are not perfectly rational. I have never regretted paying off my mortgage early, although I do agree with the qualification that mortgage payoff should roughly coincide with retirement date.

* Of course, Warren Buffett quickly added: “…over financial things.” Ba-dum-bum-ching!

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Berkshire Hathaway Official Reading List 2015: Approved Books by Buffett and Munger

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tapdaceAmong the many booths at Berkshire Hathaway’s 2015 Annual Meeting was one run by a local bookstore. Each year, BRK approves a list of books, many of which have been mentioned in shareholder letters or other speeches by Warren Buffett and/or Charlie Munger. I always see media articles referring to this list (ex. 11 Picks from Warren Buffett’s Bookshelf), but here is the entire official list from The Bookworm.

“I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.” – Warren Buffett

Besides the well-known Buffett biographies and classic investing books, it still manages to include several investing books I’d never heard of before, as well as some intriguing non-investing books by Buffett’s siblings and children. There is even a comic book and a separate section for kids. Here’s the Amazon-linkified list, sorted by category in alphabetical order.

About Warren Buffett

About Charlie Munger

On Investing

General Interest

Family and Children’s Interests

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Book Review: Damn Right! Biography of Charlie Munger

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I recently finished reading the biography of Charles Munger done by Janet Lowe, Damn Right! Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger, originally published in 2000. The book did a pretty good job of filling in details about his childhood and family history, although much of it was pieced together from existing speeches, books, and articles about Warren Buffett and Munger. (Although if you haven’t read any of that other stuff, you wouldn’t notice.) In any case, I still found many passages worth highlighting and saving:

On learning business skills from playing poker:

“Playing poker in the Army and as a young lawyer honed my business skills. What you have to learn is to fold early when the odds are against you, or if you have a big edge, back it heavily because you don’t get a big edge often. Opportunity comes, but it doesn’t come often, so seize it when it does come.”

On the merits of buying and holding onto investments for the long haul:

There are huge advantages for an individual to get into a position where you make a few great investments and just sit back and wait: You’re paying less to brokers. You’re listening to less nonsense. And if it works, the governmental tax system gives you an extra 1, 2 or 3 percentage points per annum compounded.

And you think that most of you are going to get that much advantage by hiring investment counselors and paying them 1% to run around, incurring a lot of taxes on your behalf? Lots of luck.

[Read more…]

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