Buffett on Investing in Gold

July 1, 2013  | By Kevin Smith

Warren Buffett is famous for his annual shareholder letter from Berkshire Hathaway. He often explains complex financial concepts in simple, sometimes humorous terms. In over 30 years of such letters to investors, Buffett has rarely even mentioned gold. He changed this in 2012 by specifically addressing the prospects of gold as an investment compared to alternatives. Here is an excerpt of a summary written by Weston Wellington.

“…. where gold advocates see a safe harbor, Buffett sees just a different set of rocks to crash into. Since gold generates no return, the only source of appreciation for today’s anxious purchaser is the buyer of tomorrow who is even more fearful.

Buffett completes the argument by asking the reader to compare the long-run potential of two portfolios. The first holds all the gold in the world (worth roughly $9.6 trillion) while the second owns all the cropland in America plus the equivalent of sixteen ExxonMobils plus $1 trillion for “walking around money.” Brushing aside the squabbles over monetary theory, Buffett calmly points out that the first portfolio will produce absolutely nothing over the next century while the second will generate a river of corn, cotton, and petroleum products. People will exchange their labor for these goods regardless of whether the currency is “gold, seashells, or shark’s teeth.” (Nobel laureate Milton Friedman has pointed out that Yap Islanders got along very well with a currency consisting of enormous stone wheels that were rarely moved.)

When Buffett assumed control of Berkshire Hathaway in 1965, the book value was $19 per share, or roughly half an ounce of gold. Using the cash flow from existing businesses and reinvesting in new ones, Berkshire has grown into a substantial enterprise with a book value at year-end 2010 of $95,453 per share. The half-ounce of gold is still a half-ounce and has never generated a dime that could have been invested in more gold.

Few of us can hope to duplicate Buffett’s record of business success, but the underlying principles of reinvestment and compound interest require no special knowledge.”
Here is a link to the entire letter from Warren Buffett.

Posted in: Investing
Kevin X. Smith, CFA
512.467.2003   |  [email protected]

Kevin is on a mission to find better ways to explain complex concepts in increasingly simple and meaningful demonstrations. Everyone has a different level of interest in learning about investing – ranging from “I just want to know that I…Read More

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