Tags: Maxfield | Buffett | history | float

Motley Fool's Maxfield: Buffett Will Loom Smaller in History Than Other Titans

By    |   Tuesday, 14 April 2015 09:00 AM

While legendary investor Warren Buffett occupies a place front and center in the public's consciousness now, that will eventually change, says Motley Fool writer John Maxfield.

"How will historians write about Warren Buffett 100 years from now? Will they treat him like the magnificent Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt? Or will the 84-year-old multibillionaire play a more muted role in history books, akin to the venerated Gilded Age stock operator Henry Clews?" Maxfield asks.

"I believe it will be the latter."

Maxfield doesn't deny Buffett his due. "It would be silly to argue that Buffett isn't one of the most accomplished Americans alive today," he acknowledges.

"But unlike the great business moguls of America's past, Buffett didn't invent a product or process that will live on in perpetuity," Maxfield explains. Vanderbilt produced steamship lines.

And what of Buffett?

"His innovation consisted of using insurance float to fund a corporate conglomerate," Maxfield says. "It was brilliant, and others have since copied this approach — most notably, hedge fund manager David Einhorn and the team at Markel Corporation — but outside of finance, Buffett's innovative use of float is difficult for the average person to grasp."

Elsewhere on the Buffett front, he drew a lot of attention in the fourth quarter, when his Berkshire Hathaway dumped shares of Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and National Oilwell Varco.

But, "based on past history, Buffett's success in the resource sector has been a mixed bag," writes John Manfreda of Oilprice.com.

He scored big on Petro China, selling in 2007 for a profit of $3.5 billion. But he lost several billion on his investment in ConocoPhillips, which began in 2008.

"In order for Buffett to buy a stock, the company has to pass this set of criteria: high margins with a low amount of debt (it doesn't take a genius to run them); strong franchises and freedom to price, with predictable earnings," Manfreda explains.

"This set of criteria sounds great when investing in a consumer goods business, but when investing in the resource sector, it's almost impossible to achieve. The energy industry has higher capital spending requirements than other industries."

The S&P 500 Energy stock Index has returned a negative 11.4 percent during the past year, compared to positive 17 percent for the overall S&P 500.

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While legendary investor Warren Buffett occupies a place front and center in the public's consciousness now, that will eventually change, says Motley Fool writer John Maxfield.
Maxfield, Buffett, history, float
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2015-00-14
Tuesday, 14 April 2015 09:00 AM
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