Warren Buffett skriver årligen brev till Berkshires aktieägare som är högt uppskattade. Breven för 1977 och framåt finns att läsa på Berkshires hemsida. Då jag är en man av den gamla skolan (min mobil saknar följaktligen både kamera och internet) föredrar jag att läsa breven i pappersform. Boken The Essays of Warren Buffett: lessons for corporate America är ett urval. Vid den senaste omläsningen tyckte jag resonemanget om inflation och lönsamhet (s220-222) var särskilt intressant:
Berkshires aktieägarbrev 1983:
years the traditional wisdom- long on tradition, short on wisdom- held
that inflation protection was best provided by businesses laden with
natural resources, plants and machinery, or other tangible assets ("In
Goods We Trust"). It doesn't work that way.
generally earn low rates of return- rates that often barely provide
enough capital to fund the inflationary needs of the existing business,
with nothing leaft over for real growth, for distribution to owners, or
for acquisition of new businesses."
Berkshires aktieägarbrev 1983:
"When we purchased See's [...] it was earning about $2 million on $8 million of net tangible assets. Let ut assume that our hypothetical mundane business then had $2 million of earnings also, but needed $18 million in net tangible assets for normal operations. [the mundane business] might well have sold for the value of its net tangible assets, or for $18 million. In contrast, we paid $25 million for See's, even though it had no more in earnings and less than half as much in "honest-to-God" assets. Could less really have been more, as our purchase price implied? The answer is "yes"- even if both businesses were expected to have flat unit volume- as long as you anticipated, as we did in 1972, a world of continuous inflation.
To understand why, imagine the effect that a doubling of the price level would subsequently have on the two businesses. Both would need to double their nominal earnings to $4 million to keep themselves even with inflation. [...] crucially, to bring that about, both businesses probably would have to double their nominal investment in net tangible assets, since that is the kind of economic requirement that inflation usually imposes on businesses, both good and bad. A doubling of dollar sales means correspondingly more dollars must be employed immediately in receivables and inventories. Dollars employed in fixed assets will respond more slowly to inflation, but probably just as surely. And all of this inflation-required investment will produce no improvement in rate of return. The motivation for this investment is the survival of the business, not the prosperity of the owner.
Remember however, that See's had net tangible assets of only $8 million. So it would only have had to commit an additional $8 million to finance the capital needs imposed by inflation. The mundane business meanwhile, had a burden over twice as large- a need for $18 million of additional capital.
After the dust had settled, the mundane business, now earning $4 million annually, might still be worth the value of its tangible assets, or $36 million. That means its owners would have gained only a dollar of nominal value for every new dollar invested. [...] See's, however, also earning $4 million, might be worth $50 million of values (as it logically would be) on the basis as it was at the time of our purchase. So it would have gained $25 million in nominal value while the owners were putting up only $8 million in additional capital- over $3 of nominal value gained for each $1 invested.
Remember, even so, that the owners of the See's kind of business were forced by inflation to ante up $8 million in additional capital just to stay even in real profits. Any unleveraged business that requires some net tangible assets to operate (and almost all do) is hurt by inflation. Businesses needing little in the way of tangible assets simply are hurt the least."