As part of its 30th anniversary, Public Broadcasting’s Nightly Business Report is airing an interview with Warren Buffett tonight (Thursday, January 22nd). Susie Gharib spoke with “the oracle of Omaha”, asking him about the economy, about President Obama, and about investing. Here are some excerpts from the transcript, posted with permission. Update: Video of the interview is now online.
Susie Gharib: One thing that Americans aren’t buying these days is stocks. Should they be buying?
Warren Buffett: Well just as many people buy a stock everyday as sell one, so there are people buying stocks everyday and we’re buying stocks as we go along. If they’re buying into a business that they understand at a sensible price they should be buying them. That’s true at any time. There are a lot more things selling at sensible prices now than they were two years ago. So clearly it’s a better time to buying stocks than a couple of years ago. Is it better than tomorrow? I have no idea.
SG: This financial crisis has been extraordinary in so many ways, how has it changed your approach to investing?
WB: Doesn’t change my approach at all. My approach to investing I learned in 1949 or ‘50 from a book by Ben Graham and it’s never changed.
SG: So many people I have talked to this past year say this was unprecedented…the unthinkable happened. And that hasn’t at all impacted your philosophy on this?
WB: No, and if I were buying a farm, I wouldn’t change my ideas about how to buy a farm or an apartment house or a business and that’s all a stock is. It’s part of a business, so if I were going to buy stock in a private business here in Omaha, I’d look at it just like I would have looked at it two years ago and I’ll look at it the same way two years from now. I look at how much I am getting for my money, how good the management is, how the competitive position of that business compares to others, how durable it is and just fundamental questions.
Any stock I buy, I will be happy owning it if they close the stock market for five years tomorrow. In other words I am buying a business. I’m not buying a stock. I’m buying a little piece of a business, just like I buy a farm. And that doesn’t change. And all the newspapers headlines of the world don’t change that. It doesn’t mean you can’t buy it cheaper tomorrow. It may turn out that way. But the real question is did I get my money’s worth when I bought it?
SG: One of your famous investing principals is, “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” So is this the time to be greedy, right?
WB: Yeah. My greed quotient has risen as stocks have gone down. There’s no question about that. The cheaper something gets that you’re going to buy, the happier you feel, right? You’re going to buy groceries the rest of your life; you want grocery prices to go up or down? You want them to go down. And if they go down you don’t think gee I got all those groceries sitting in my cabinet at home and I’ve lost money on those. You think I am buying my groceries cheaper, I am going to keep buying groceries. Now if you’re a seller, obviously prices are higher. But most people listening to this program, certainly I, myself, and Berkshire Hathaway, we’re going to be buying businesses over time. We like the idea of businesses getting cheaper.
SG: Investor confidence was so shattered last year, what do you think its going to take to restore confidence?
WB: If people were dependent on the stock market going up to be confident, they’re in the wrong business. They ought to be confident because they look at a business and think I got my money’s worth. They ought to be confident if they buy a farm, not on whether they get a quote the next day on the farm, but they ought to look at what the farm produces, how many bushels an acre do they get out of their corn or soybeans and what prices do they bring.
So they ought to look to the business as to whether to be confident compared to the price that they paid and they ought to forget about what anybody is saying, including me on television, or what they’re reading in the paper. That’s got nothing to do with whether they made a good decision or not. What’s got to do with whether they made a good decision, what kind of business they bought and what they paid for it.
SG: So are you saying that investing has gotten so complicated that investors should stick to what they know? Is that the take-away lesson?
WB: You should always stick to what you know. I say the “know-nothing investor” and there’s nothing wrong with being a “know-nothing investor”. I spend 60 hours a week, thinking about investments and most people have got jobs and other things to do. They can buy index funds. And they’re not going to do better then an index fund if they go around and trust some guy who’s promising them very high returns.
If you buy a cross section of American business and you don’t buy it during a period when everybody is all enthused about stock, you’re going to do fine over 10 or 20 years. If you buy something with the idea that you’re going to do fine over 10 months, you may or may not. I do not know what stock is going be up 10 months from now, and I never will.
SG: As you know, it’s the 30th anniversary of Nightly Business Report. As you look back on the past three decades, what would you say is the most important lesson that you’ve learned about investing?
WB: Well I’ve learned my lessons before that. I read a book what is it, almost 60 years ago roughly, called The Intelligent Investor and I really learned all I needed to know about investing from that book, in particular chapters 8 and 20 so I haven’t changed anything since.
SG: Graham and Dodd?
WB: Well that was Ben Grahams’ book, The Intelligent Investor. Graham and Dodd goes back even before that which was important, very important. But you know you don’t change your philosophy assuming you think have a sound one and I picked up I didn’t figure it out myself, I learned it from Ben Graham, but I got a framework for investing that I put in place back in 1950 roughly and that framework is the framework I use now. I see different ways to apply it from time to time but that is the framework.
SG: Can you describe what it is? I mean what is your most important investment lesson?
WB: The most important investment lesson is to look at a stock as a piece of business not just some thing that jiggles up and down or that people recommend or people talk about earnings being up next quarter, something like that, but to look at it as a business and evaluate it as a business. If you don’t know enough to evaluate it as a business you don’t know enough to buy it. And if you do know enough to evaluate it as a business and its selling cheap, you buy it and don’t worry about what its doing next week, next month or next year
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