Saturday 24 February 2024

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Letter 2024

The 2024 annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders was published this morning, and as some readers will know, I both own shares in this company and often comment on the newsletter's contents.

For a traditionally rather boring stock, it's been on something of a tear this year, up 17% already, second only behind my less boring Bitcoin "investment" (+31.7% YTD) in my individual holdings. 
As for the newsletter, unsurprising Warren Buffett opens with a tribute to his longtime partner Charlie Munger who passed away last November just shy of his century, crediting him with being the “architect” of the present Berkshire, while "I acted as the 'general contractor' to carry out the day-by-day construction of his vision."

Buffett introduces a sister, Bertie, and makes an observation about her that many sports bettors would be well advised to heed:
She is sensible – very sensible – instinctively knowing that pundits should always be ignored. After all, if she could reliably predict tomorrow’s winners, would she freely share her valuable insights and thereby increase competitive buying? That would be like finding gold and then handing a map to the neighbors showing its location. 

As he often does, and again readers will know that I have long followed this strategy, he extols the virtue of owning US stocks writing:

I can’t remember a period since March 11, 1942 – the date of my first stock purchase – that I have not had a majority of my net worth in equities, U.S.-based equities. And so far, so good. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell below 100 on that fateful day in 1942 when I “pulled the trigger.” I was down about $5 by the time school was out. Soon, things turned around and now that index hovers around 38,000. America has been a terrific country for investors. All they have needed to do is sit quietly, listening to no one. 

The index is actually above 39,000 right now, and while I prefer to track the broader S&P 500 Index, I'm sure there will be a lot of articles written when the 40,000 level is reached Started in 1896, it's not quite the OG of indexes, but it's second behind the Dow Jones Transportation Average which started in 1884. 

Buffett is very much a proponent of leaving things alone when they are going well, and talks about the holdings in Coke and American Express that Berkshire Hathaway have held for many years:

During 2023, we did not buy or sell a share of either AMEX or Coke – extending our own Rip Van Winkle slumber that has now lasted well over two decades. Both companies again rewarded our inaction last year by increasing their earnings and dividends. Indeed, our share of AMEX earnings in 2023 considerably exceeded the $1.3 billion cost of our long-ago purchase. 

And of interest to me with my new focus on dividends, Buffett adds:

Both AMEX and Coke will almost certainly increase their dividends in 2024 – about 16% in the case of AMEX – and we will most certainly leave our holdings untouched throughout the year.

The newsletter touches on a variety of topics including climate change, mental health and the challenges of hiring employees in the rail industry and as always, the 17 pages are worth a read in full - it can be found here

The annual review I mentioned yesterday went about as expected given the "financial headwinds" that have been mentioned, presumably to dampen expectations. It was no secret that senior grade levels would not be receiving any merit increases this year, and the bonus was down about £20k from last year with the options and RSUs set the same as 2023.

The tone of the conversation was all rather negative regarding the future and when job cuts were hinted at, I took the opportunity to express an interest in negotiating a voluntary severance package which he will be taking to HR. 

Exciting times. I went out for my daily walk immediately afterwards, always good for processing thoughts and clearing your head, and I felt very positive about everything. With the US S&P 500 later closing at new high and my Royal London pension statement also up, it was a new high again for the personal spreadsheet so it's all good. 

If no agreement on severance can be reached, or no offer is made, it's not a big deal. Given my tenure, I'll get at least six months pay if / when they involuntarily sever me and by the time that date comes around I'll have worked a few more months anyway, and as I've mentioned before, it's very comfortable working from home so that wouldn't be a big deal anyway. 

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