Monday, April 27, 2009

Buffett: The Sleuth Investor

I've been reading The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life the past couple of days. Here's an interesting excerpt, from pages 194 and 195:

Visiting management was part of Warren's way of doing business. He used those meetings to learn as much as he could about a company. Getting personal access to management played to his ability to charm and impress powerful people with his knowledge and wit. And he also felt that by becoming friendly with the management of a company, he might be able to influence the company to do the right thing.

Graham, on the other hand, did not visit managements, much less try to influence them ... He felt that by definition being an investor meant being an outsider, someone who confronted managements rather than rubbing shoulders with them. Graham wanted to be on a level playing field with the little guy, using only information that was available to everyone.

Following his own instincts, however, Warren decided to visit the Union Street Railway on a weekend.

"I got up at about four a.m. and drove up to New Bedford. Mark Duff was very nice, polite. Just as I was about ready to leave, he said, 'By the way, we've been thinking of having a "return of capital" distribution to shareholders.'" That meant they were going to give back the extra money. "And I said, 'Oh, that's nice.' And then he said, 'Yes, and there's a provision you may not be aware of in the Massachusetts statutes on public utilities that you have to do it in multiples of the par value of the stock." The stock had a $25 par value, so that meant it would be paying out at least $25 per share.* "And I said, 'Well. That's a good start.' Then he said, 'Bear in mind, we're thinking of using two units.' That meant they were going to declare a fifty-dollar dividend on a stock that was selling at thirty-five or forty dollars at that time." So if you bought a share you got all your money back right away, and then some. And afterward, you still owned the slice of the business that represented your share of stock.

"I got fifty bucks a share, and I still owned stock in the place. And there was still value in it..."
You don't have to read The Sleuth Investor to see the importance of such exclusive information, but if you're interested in learning more on how to get it, I can recommend the book highly--more highly than Snowball in fact.

(Roger Lowenstein's Buffett: Making of an American Capitalist remains the best book on the great investor's life, despite having less access to Buffett's family and friends--or perhaps because of it.)


  1. THE SLEUTH INVESTOR is amazing. I highly recommend its read for anyone looking to gain an edge against the masses. Learn how to do the IMPORTANT HARD WORK to make your money grow in fantastic, responsible ways.