The world recently lost an investing icon with the passing of Charlie Munger at the age of 99. As the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Mr. Munger was Warren Buffett’s right-hand man for the past 45 years. This dynamic duo created one of the most admired businesses on the planet. In doing so, they also generously shared their wisdom and experience for the rest of us to learn from. Their style of communication was a unique dose of wit paired with honesty, always delivered in plain rational English for all to understand – sometimes a rarity in our industry.
While Warren often receives the public accolades, the respect he had for his friend of 60 years is best left to the following quote: “Berkshire Hathaway could not have been built to its present status without Charlie’s inspiration, wisdom and participation.” We feel a similar appreciation for the impact these two individuals have had on us and our business. Our clients have benefitted from our long-term ownership of Berkshire shares and our investment team from their wisdom. Over the years we’ve even made the pilgrimage to Omaha for Berkshire’s famous annual meetings, standing in line at 4:30 am and overdosing on See’s peanut brittle!
There is a reason 30,000+ people travel to Omaha to listen to these two near centenarians. They are funny, to the point, honest, and full of wisdom. Much of their advice is more about human nature than investing. There’s a reason they are sought after for their viewpoints beyond investing. Charlie’s passion in life was learning, he just happened to figure out he could become very wealthy if he combined his passion with investing. Over the years, his punchy viewpoints came to be known as Mungerisms. In tribute, we thought we’d comment on a few of our favourites.
“It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”
Charlie often referred to the importance of not doing dumb things, and how other people doing dumb things created opportunities for Berkshire. Investors are all susceptible to irrational whims – chasing “hot” stocks to get rich quickly, buying investments with little understanding and at any value, using leverage (debt) to amplify returns, or selling because the market has fallen.
We try to avoid these pitfalls by forcing ourselves to be disciplined in our internal risk management process. You’ve probably heard us talk about it over the years. It’s real. We formally present and discuss detailed portfolio characteristics every month and have been doing so for over 25 years. It’s not meant to maximize gains, but to minimize potentially costly mistakes. The latter part of the quote is a reminder that IQ alone does not lead to investment success… speaking only for myself, thank goodness!
“The big money is not in the buying and selling, but in the waiting.”
“The first rule of compounding: Never interrupt it unnecessarily.”
Charlie reminds us that patience is a virtue for the long-term investor. They speak of compounding often at Berkshire, which is essentially the ability to earn profits on top of profits. Compounding can have an incredible amplifying effect over time. Simply put, investors must be patient and willing to have long hold periods to get the most benefit from compounding. But investor behaviour does not always reflect this simple concept, as evidenced by the continual decline in the average holding period of shares.
The folks at Berkshire know they won’t outperform the market every year. But they are not fussed by this because they have faith that their portfolio will more than keep up over the long run. This is certainly in line with our thinking at QV. We’ve often said the more we trade the better the chance we mess something up. Holding periods across our funds have always been significantly longer than the norm. We have held many of our current investments for over 10 years and some even since the inception of the firm (over 25 years)! While we’ll trail behind the market in some years, we know it’s the long-term results that count. We’d probably be at risk of failing the “consistently not stupid” test if we were in the business of trying to trade stocks for short-term gain.
“The best thing a human being can do is to help another human being know more.”
Charlie Munger’s legacy of sharing his wisdom speaks for itself. We are all very grateful to you, Charlie. May you rest in peace.
This is our final letter of the year. We wish all of you peace and health this holiday season.