Warren Buffet on Book Value vs Intrinsic Value, from Berkshire Hathaway 1994 Letter to Shareholders: We regularly report our per-share book value, an easily calculable number, though one of limited use. Just as regularly, we tell you that what counts is intrinsic value, a number that is impossible to pinpoint but essential to estimate. For example, in 1964, we could state with certitude that Berkshire's per-share book value was $19.46. However, that figure considerably overstated the stock's intrinsic value since all of the company's resources were tied up in a sub-profitable textile business. Our textile assets had neither going-concern nor liquidation values equal to their carrying values. In 1964, then, anyone inquiring into the soundness of Berkshire's balance sheet might well have deserved the answer once offered up by a Hollywood mogul of dubious reputation: "Don't worry, the liabilities are solid." Today, Berkshire's situation has reversed: Many of the businesses we control are worth far more than their carrying value. (Those we don't control, such as Coca-Cola or Gillette, are carried at current market values.) We continue to give you book value figures, however, because they serve as a rough, albeit significantly understated, tracking measure for Berkshire's intrinsic value. Last year, in fact, the two measures moved in concert: Book value gained 13.9%, and that was the approximate gain in intrinsic value also. We define intrinsic value as the discounted value of the cash that can be taken out of a business during its remaining life. Anyone calculating intrinsic value necessarily comes up with a highly subjective figure that will change both as estimates of future cash flows are revised and as interest rates move. Despite its fuzziness, however, intrinsic value is all- important and is the only logical way to evaluate the relative attractiveness of investments and businesses. To see how historical input (book value) and future output (intrinsic value) can diverge, let's look at another form of investment, a college education. Think of the education's cost as its "book value." If it is to be accurate, the cost should include the earnings that were foregone by the student because he chose college rather than a job. For this exercise, we will ignore the important non-economic benefits of an education and focus strictly on its economic value. First, we must estimate the earnings that the graduate will receive over his lifetime and subtract from that figure an estimate of what he would have earned had he lacked his education. That gives us an excess earnings figure, which must then be discounted, at an appropriate interest rate, back to graduation day. The dollar result equals the intrinsic economic value of the education. Some graduates will find that the book value of their education exceeds its intrinsic value, which means that whoever paid for the education didn't get his money's worth. In other cases, the intrinsic value of an education will far exceed its book value, a result that proves capital was wisely deployed. In all cases, what is clear is that book value is meaningless as an indicator of intrinsic value. Now let's get less academic and look at Scott Fetzer, an example from Berkshire's own experience. This account will not only illustrate how the relationship of book value and intrinsic value can change but also will provide an accounting lesson that I know you have been breathlessly awaiting. Naturally, I've chosen here to talk about an acquisition that has turned out to be a huge winner. Berkshire purchased Scott Fetzer at the beginning of 1986. At the time, the company was a collection of 22 businesses, and today we have exactly the same line-up - no additions and no disposals. Scott Fetzer's main operations are World Book, Kirby, and Campbell Hausfeld, but many other units are important contributors to earnings as well. We paid $315.2 million for Scott Fetzer, which at the time had $172.6 million of book value. The $142.6 million premium we handed over indicated our belief that the company's intrinsic value was close to double its book value. In the table below we trace the book value of Scott Fetzer, as well as its earnings and dividends, since our purchase. (1) (4) Beginning (2) (3) Ending Year Book Value Earnings Dividends Book Value ---- ---------- -------- --------- ---------- (In $ Millions) (1)+(2)-(3) 1986 ............... $172.6 $ 40.3 $125.0 $ 87.9 1987 ............... 87.9 48.6 41.0 95.5 1988 ............... 95.5 58.0 35.0 118.6 1989 ............... 118.6 58.5 71.5 105.5 1990 ............... 105.5 61.3 33.5 133.3 1991 ............... 133.3 61.4 74.0 120.7 1992 ............... 120.7 70.5 80.0 111.2 1993 ............... 111.2 77.5 98.0 90.7 1994 ............... 90.7 79.3 76.0 94.0 Because it had excess cash when our deal was made, Scott Fetzer was able to pay Berkshire dividends of $125 million in 1986, though it earned only $40.3 million. I should mention that we have not introduced leverage into Scott Fetzer's balance sheet. In fact, the company has gone from very modest debt when we purchased it to virtually no debt at all (except for debt used by its finance subsidiary). Similarly, we have not sold plants and leased them back, nor sold receivables, nor the like. Throughout our years of ownership, Scott Fetzer has operated as a conservatively-financed and liquid enterprise. As you can see, Scott Fetzer's earnings have increased steadily since we bought it, but book value has not grown commensurately. Consequently, return on equity, which was exceptional at the time of our purchase, has now become truly extraordinary. Just how extraordinary is illustrated by comparing Scott Fetzer's performance to that of the Fortune 500, a group it would qualify for if it were a stand-alone company. Had Scott Fetzer been on the 1993 500 list - the latest available for inspection - the company's return on equity would have ranked 4th. But that is far from the whole story. The top three companies in return on equity were Insilco, LTV and Gaylord Container, each of which emerged from bankruptcy in 1993 and none of which achieved meaningful earnings that year except for those they realized when they were accorded debt forgiveness in bankruptcy proceedings. Leaving aside such non-operating windfalls, Scott Fetzer's return on equity would have ranked it first on the Fortune 500, well ahead of number two. Indeed, Scott Fetzer's return on equity was double that of the company ranking tenth. You might expect that Scott Fetzer's success could only be explained by a cyclical peak in earnings, a monopolistic position, or leverage. But no such circumstances apply. Rather, the company's success comes from the managerial expertise of CEO Ralph Schey, of whom I'll tell you more later. First, however, the promised accounting lesson: When we paid a $142.6 million premium over book value for Scott Fetzer, that figure had to be recorded on Berkshire's balance sheet. I'll spare you the details of how this worked (these were laid out in an appendix to our 1986 Annual Report) and get to the bottom line: After a premium is initially recorded, it must in almost all cases be written off over time through annual charges that are shown as costs in the acquiring company's earnings statement. The following table shows, first, the annual charges Berkshire has made to gradually extinguish the Scott Fetzer acquisition premium and, second, the premium that remains on our books. These charges have no effect on cash or the taxes we pay, and are not, in our view, an economic cost (though many accountants would disagree with us). They are merely a way for us to reduce the carrying value of Scott Fetzer on our books so that the figure will eventually match the net worth that Scott Fetzer actually employs in its business. Beginning Purchase-Premium Ending Purchase Charge to Purchase Year Premium Berkshire Earnings Premium ---- --------- ------------------ -------- (In $ Millions) 1986 ................ $142.6 $ 11.6 $131.0 1987 ................ 131.0 7.1 123.9 1988 ................ 123.9 7.9 115.9 1989 ................ 115.9 7.0 108.9 1990 ................ 108.9 7.1 101.9 1991 ................ 101.9 6.9 95.0 1992 ................ 95.0 7.7 87.2 1993 ................ 87.2 28.1 59.1 1994 ................ 59.1 4.9 54.2 Note that by the end of 1994 the premium was reduced to $54.2 million. When this figure is added to Scott Fetzer's year- end book value of $94 million, the total is $148.2 million, which is the current carrying value of Scott Fetzer on Berkshire's books. That amount is less than half of our carrying value for the company when it was acquired. Yet Scott Fetzer is now earning about twice what it then did. Clearly, the intrinsic value of the business has consistently grown, even though we have just as consistently marked down its carrying value through purchase-premium charges that reduced Berkshire's earnings and net worth. The difference between Scott Fetzer's intrinsic value and its carrying value on Berkshire's books is now huge. As I mentioned earlier - but am delighted to mention again - credit for this agreeable mismatch goes to Ralph Schey, a focused, smart and high-grade manager. The reasons for Ralph's success are not complicated. Ben Graham taught me 45 years ago that in investing it is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results. In later life, I have been surprised to find that this statement holds true in business management as well. What a manager must do is handle the basics well and not get diverted. That's precisely Ralph's formula. He establishes the right goals and never forgets what he set out to do. On the personal side, Ralph is a joy to work with. He's forthright about problems and is self-confident without being self-important. He is also experienced. Though I don't know Ralph's age, I do know that, like many of our managers, he is over 65. At Berkshire, we look to performance, not to the calendar. Charlie and I, at 71 and 64 respectively, now keep George Foreman's picture on our desks. You can make book that our scorn for a mandatory retirement age will grow stronger every year. Intrinsic Value and Capital Allocation Understanding intrinsic value is as important for managers as it is for investors. When managers are making capital allocation decisions - including decisions to repurchase shares - it's vital that they act in ways that increase per-share intrinsic value and avoid moves that decrease it. This principle may seem obvious but we constantly see it violated. And, when misallocations occur, shareholders are hurt. For example, in contemplating business mergers and acquisitions, many managers tend to focus on whether the transaction is immediately dilutive or anti-dilutive to earnings per share (or, at financial institutions, to per-share book value). An emphasis of this sort carries great dangers. Going back to our college-education example, imagine that a 25-year-old first-year MBA student is considering merging his future economic interests with those of a 25-year-old day laborer. The MBA student, a non-earner, would find that a "share-for-share" merger of his equity interest in himself with that of the day laborer would enhance his near-term earnings (in a big way!). But what could be sillier for the student than a deal of this kind? In corporate transactions, it's equally silly for the would- be purchaser to focus on current earnings when the prospective acquiree has either different prospects, different amounts of non-operating assets, or a different capital structure. At Berkshire, we have rejected many merger and purchase opportunities that would have boosted current and near-term earnings but that would have reduced per-share intrinsic value. Our approach, rather, has been to follow Wayne Gretzky's advice: "Go to where the puck is going to be, not to where it is." As a result, our shareholders are now many billions of dollars richer than they would have been if we had used the standard catechism. The sad fact is that most major acquisitions display an egregious imbalance: They are a bonanza for the shareholders of the acquiree; they increase the income and status of the acquirer's management; and they are a honey pot for the investment bankers and other professionals on both sides. But, alas, they usually reduce the wealth of the acquirer's shareholders, often to a substantial extent. That happens because the acquirer typically gives up more intrinsic value than it receives. Do that enough, says John Medlin, the retired head of Wachovia Corp., and "you are running a chain letter in reverse." Over time, the skill with which a company's managers allocate capital has an enormous impact on the enterprise's value. Almost by definition, a really good business generates far more money (at least after its early years) than it can use internally. The company could, of course, distribute the money to shareholders by way of dividends or share repurchases. But often the CEO asks a strategic planning staff, consultants or investment bankers whether an acquisition or two might make sense. That's like asking your interior decorator whether you need a $50,000 rug. The acquisition problem is often compounded by a biological bias: Many CEO's attain their positions in part because they possess an abundance of animal spirits and ego. If an executive is heavily endowed with these qualities - which, it should be acknowledged, sometimes have their advantages - they won't disappear when he reaches the top. When such a CEO is encouraged by his advisors to make deals, he responds much as would a teenage boy who is encouraged by his father to have a normal sex life. It's not a push he needs. Some years back, a CEO friend of mine - in jest, it must be said - unintentionally described the pathology of many big deals. This friend, who ran a property-casualty insurer, was explaining to his directors why he wanted to acquire a certain life insurance company. After droning rather unpersuasively through the economics and strategic rationale for the acquisition, he abruptly abandoned the script. With an impish look, he simply said: "Aw, fellas, all the other kids have one." At Berkshire, our managers will continue to earn extraordinary returns from what appear to be ordinary businesses. As a first step, these managers will look for ways to deploy their earnings advantageously in their businesses. What's left, they will send to Charlie and me. We then will try to use those funds in ways that build per-share intrinsic value. Our goal will be to acquire either part or all of businesses that we believe we understand, that have good, sustainable underlying economics, and that are run by managers whom we like, admire and trust.