Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Snowball: Chapters 21, 22, 23 & 24

Warren Buffett chose Alice Schroeder to be his biographer, granting her access to his personal life like no outsider has ever been granted. In The Snowball, she is rather frank and is not always complimentary of the investing legend, which has apparently led to a rift between the two. Here follows a summary of the book.

Buffett became a star at Graham-Newman. Eventually, Ben Graham's other hobbies took over his time; he was ready to retire. (Buffett was able to tell that all was not right when Graham made some questionable portfolio decisions. For example, Graham made a curious investment in the large, well-followed, fairly-valued AT&T, which was a very abnormal choice for the firm.) Buffett was offered a partnership position at the firm, but Buffett had only been there to work with Graham; without Graham there, Buffett would prefer to strike out on his own. As a result, Graham-Newman was shut down.

The author then details the formations of all of the Buffett partnerships of the 1950s and early 1960s. As Buffett's results were strong, he was drawing more and more capital to his funds. But at this point in his career, he always had more ideas/opportunities for investment than he had funds. So when he wasn't studying potential or actual investments, he was out raising money. This left him little family time for his wife and now three children, according to the author.

Most of Buffett's investments were cigar-butt type companies: companies with not a lot of potential (maybe one last puff of smoke left in them) but trading at bargain prices. But then Buffett met Charlie Munger through one of his partners/investors. Buffett and Munger hit it off right away, and ended up speaking by phone several days a week, sometimes for hours at a time.

Though Buffett's net worth grew substantially during this period, there were many who felt he was running a ponzi scheme. People were wary of how successful he had become. But those who knew him continued to invest because they believed him to be honest. They would be rewarded with stellar returns.

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