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Buffett craves acquisitions, flags bond risks in Berkshire letter

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02/24/2018 | 05:04pm CEST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Below is a selection of comments from Warren Buffett's latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders, released on Saturday:

ACQUISITIONS:

"Our aversion to leverage has dampened our returns over the years. But Charlie (Munger) and I sleep well. Both of us believe it is insane to risk what you have and need in order to obtain what you don’t need.

Berkshire’s goal is to substantially increase the earnings of its non-insurance group. For that to happen, we will need to make one or more huge acquisitions. We certainly have the resources to do so.

At year-end Berkshire held $116.0 billion in cash and U.S. Treasury Bills (whose average maturity was 88 days), up from $86.4 billion at yearend 2016. This extraordinary liquidity earns only a pittance and is far beyond the level Charlie and I wish Berkshire to have."

INSURANCE

"Charlie and I never will operate Berkshire in a manner that depends on the kindness of strangers – or even that of friends who may be facing liquidity problems of their own. During the 2008-2009 crisis, we liked having Treasury Bills – loads of Treasury Bills – that protected us from having to rely on funding sources such as bank lines or commercial paper. We have intentionally constructed Berkshire in a manner that will allow it to comfortably withstand economic discontinuities, including such extremes as extended market closures.

Berkshire’s insurance managers are conservative and careful underwriters, who operate in a culture that has long prioritized those qualities. That disciplined behavior has produced underwriting profits in most years, and in such instances, our cost of float was less than zero. In effect, we got paid then for holding the huge sums tallied in the earlier table.

I have warned you, however, that we have been fortunate in recent years and that the catastrophe-light period the industry was experiencing was not a new norm. Last September drove home that point, as three significant hurricanes hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico."

INVESTING

"I want to quickly acknowledge that in any upcoming day, week or even year, stocks will be riskier – far riskier – than short-term U.S. bonds. As an investor’s investment horizon lengthens, however, a diversified portfolio of U.S. equities becomes progressively less risky than bonds, assuming that the stocks are purchased at a sensible multiple of earnings relative to then-prevailing interest rates.

It is a terrible mistake for investors with long-term horizons – among them, pension funds, college endowments and savings-minded individuals – to measure their investment “risk” by their portfolio’s ratio of bonds to stocks. Often, high-grade bonds in an investment portfolio increase its risk."

BUFFETT SUCCESSORS?

"I’ve saved the best for last. Early in 2018, Berkshire’s board elected Ajit Jain and Greg Abel as directors of Berkshire and also designated each as Vice Chairman.

Ajit is now responsible for insurance operations, and Greg oversees the rest of our businesses. Charlie and I will focus on investments and capital allocation.

You and I are lucky to have Ajit and Greg working for us. Each has been with Berkshire for decades, and Berkshire’s blood flows through their veins. The character of each man matches his talents. And that says it all."

(Reporting By Jennifer Ablan; editing by Diane Craft)

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