Warren Buffett: Volume trends for everybody

“It is true that in the packaged goods industry, volume trends for everybody — whether they’re fat or lean in their operation — volume trends are not good. And the test will be over time — you know, three, five years — are the operations which have had their costs cut, do they do poor, in terms of volume, than the ones, that in my judgment, look very fat?” –Warren Buffett. 


Warren Buffett: Competitive position

“Generally speaking, if you lose your competitive position — the Packard Motor Company had the premier car in the mid-’30s. The Cadillac was not the premier — it was the Packard. 

And then they went downscale one year and they never came back. They jumped their sales that one year because everybody wanted to own a Packard, and now you could own one a little cheaper. But they never regained that upscale image again. 

And certain department stores have done that, too. They’ve had a upscale image. And you can always juice up your sales, particularly if you’ve got a great upscale image, by having, you know, this sale or that sale, and going downmarket.  

It’s very hard to back upmarket again, and you’ve seen some great department stores that have had that — or specialty stores — that had that problem.”

—Warren Buffett. 

Warren Buffett: 10 percent or greater

“I will bet you that a lot of years in the future we, or you, will be able to find equities that you understand, or we understand, and that have the probability of returns at 10 percent or greater. Now, once you find a group of equities in that range, and leaving aside the problem of huge sums of money, which we have, then we just buy the most attractive. That usually means the ones we feel the surest about, I mean, as a practical matter. There’s just some businesses that possess economic characteristics that make their future prospects, far out, far more predictable than others. There’s all kinds of businesses that you just can’t remotely predict what they’ll earn, and you just have to forget about them. So, we have, over time, gotten very partial to the businesses where we think the predictability is high. But we still want a threshold return of 10 percent, which is not that great after-tax, anyway.” –Warren Buffett (2003). 

Warren Buffett: Incremental capital

“We’d love to have a business that could earn 20 percent on a hundred million now. And if we put a billion more in it, it would earn 20 percent more on that billion. But…those businesses are so rare. There are a lot of promises of those businesses, but we’ve practically never seen one. There’ve been a few. Most of the great businesses generate lots of money. They do not generate lots of opportunities to earn high returns on incremental capital.” –Warren Buffett. 

Warren Buffett: Cost of capital

“Charlie and I don’t have the faintest idea what our cost of capital is at Berkshire, and we think the whole concept is a little crazy, frankly. But it’s something that’s taught in the business schools, and you have to be able to answer the questions or you don’t get out of business school. But we have a very simple arrangement in terms of what we do with money—we look for the most intelligent thing we can find to do…. And so, we measure alternatives against each other, and we measure alternatives against dividends, and we measure alternatives against repurchase of shares. But I have never seen a cost of capital calculation that made sense to me.”

–Warren Buffett. 

Warren Buffett: EBITDA, a cash expense

“I get these people that…want to send me books with EBITDA in it, and I just tell them, you know, ‘I’ll look at that figure when you tell me you’ll make all the capital expenditures.’ If I’m going to make the capital expenditures, there’s very few businesses where I think I can spend a whole lot less than depreciation year after year and maintain the economic strength of the business. So I think the EBITDA has been a term that has cost a lot of investors a lot of money…. It’s not a non-cash expense. It’s a cash expense. You just spend it first. I mean the cash is gone, and it’s a delayed recording of cash. How anybody can turn that into something they use as a metric that talks about earnings is beyond me. ”

—Warren Buffett.