Here's another reason to look forward to the weekend.
Since 1965, Buffett has been imparting his thoughts and wisdom in the eagerly anticipated letter. It's become appointment-like reading for investors, both professional and individual, when it is published.
Much like preparing for a company's earnings report, when reviewing past SEC filings such as 10-Ks and 10-Qs can be helpful, the same holds true for Buffett's shareholder letters. And I strongly suspect that investors will compare and parse the language used in this year's letter, the same way sequential monetary policy statements from the Federal Reserve are sifted through to gauge changes in tone and sentiment from the central bank. With that in mind, readers looking to review the last several shareholder letters from Buffett can find them here.
As has been the case for some time, the annual letter will likely open with Berkshire's performance against the S&P 500 across a few metrics and then dive into an analysis of the last year's results. Over those first columns, it will become rather obvious why Buffett has achieved rock-star status in the investment world. In Saturday's letter, he will be discussing 2018, a year in which the S&P 500 fell 6.2%.
In the ensuing pages, Buffett will likely tick through the operations of Berkshire's various businesses, touching on the four cornerstones of what he calls its "building blocks" -- (1) sizable stand-alone acquisitions; (2) bolt-on acquisitions that fit with businesses it already owns; (3) internal sales growth and margin improvement initiatives; and (4) earnings from its investment portfolio. The first three should be viewed as essential reading for any MBA candidate, and Buffett does a remarkable job of keeping it fresh and anything but tedious. The last one, however, is the one the investment community will likely be thumbing through first.
In the Investments section, one of the first things people will be looking at are changes to Berkshire's top 15 or so holdings. What changes has the team of Buffett, Charlie Munger, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler implemented? Have ownership positions moved up or down? Are there any new positions or ones that have fallen off?
Comparing the 2017 shareholder letter with the 2016 edition, we learned that Buffett and team had grown their holdings Apple (AAPL) , Bank of America (BAC) , General Motors (GM) , and Southwest Airlines (LUV) , while trimming their stakes in Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK) , Delta Air Lines (DAL) , United Continental Airlines (UAL) , IBM (IBM) , U.S. Bancorp. (USB) , Wells Fargo (WFC) and a few others
Similar to Apple's halo effect on its suppliers, making it onto Buffett's list and seeing the team grow its stake is like a stock being anointed. In the 2017 letter, Buffet shared that Combs and Weschler each managed $12 billion independently, so it will be interesting to see where those amounts stand, especially as investors and shareholders contemplate Buffett's eventual retirement. That's a fair concern given the man will be 89 years old this coming Aug. 30.
One investment that we may not read too much about in this letter is Kraft Heinz (KHC) , of which Berkshire owns some 325.6 million shares (7.7%) as part of the control group. When Kraft Heinz reported its quarterly earnings Thursday night, it said it had received a subpoena from the SEC as part of an investigation into the company's procurement accounting policies. The company also announced it was trimming its dividend. Given the time to press, odds are Buffett will not address this in the 2019 shareholder letter, but it will likely be a topic for he and Munger to discuss at the 2019 shareholder meeting. And it could be a part of next year's shareholder "investment lesson."
Between the Investments and Annual Meeting sections, where the Oracle formally announces the date, logistics and rules of the annual meeting (along with a friendly plug to spend freely at all of the Berkshire-company stands that will be set up), we have what is considered Buffett's annual investment lesson. Of all the things in the letter, this is the biggest wildcard and the area that many will be champing at the bit to read.
What will Warren talk about this year?
There are a number of potential topics, ranging from the state of the economy to his thoughts on the current U.S.-China trade war and the impact of tariffs, to the Fed's balance sheet unwinding program, to breaking down a successful investment or one that went awry. One low probability, possibility is Buffett sharing his views on where Apple is headed and why it remains a one of the larger positions in Berkshire's investment portfolio. While this could be highlighted, odds are Buffett will sprinkle comments on all of the above throughout the shareholder letter.