Buffett on Investing vs. Gambling

Warren Buffett recently sat with CNBC for an interview. The Q&A gives Buffett a chance to elaborate on topics he touched upon in the annual letter and answer other questions as well: healthcare, airlines, Apple, etc.

Almost all of his comments are things he’s said before. He offered a few details on the new healthcare partnership with Amazon and JP Morgan. The healthcare industry incentivizes advancing research and medical breakthroughs, not lowering costs. It’s in desperate need of cost improvements, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Two other parts stood out as well.

The first is something Buffett learned from Graham decades ago. Stocks are pieces of businesses.

It’s obvious, but I think it gets lost in the expanding universe of mutual and index fund choices. Too many of these funds use fancy names, categories, and returns that distract from the businesses held. The businesses drive the returns. The rest is marketing.

The second is another thing Graham preached. Mr. Market can bring out the worst in people. The tendency to gamble, the need to get rich quick, and take unnecessary risks are part of human nature. Wall Street knows it and creates products to lure the gambler in all of us.

Some people deal with it better than others. And some people aren’t cut out for it at all. Here’s Buffett:

Well, if you own stocks like you’d own a farm or an apartment house, you don’t get a quote on those every day or every week – you look at the business. And the value of American business depends on how much it delivers in cash to its holders over between now and judgment day. And I don’t think it changes in 10% in a two month period if you’re looking at it as a business.

Now, you’ve got – anything can happen in markets. I mean, anything can happen in markets. And that’s why I say don’t ever borrow money against securities. Markets don’t have to open tomorrow. I mean, you can have extraordinary events. So I think to some extent, you can get some of the instruments that people don’t understand very well that have a lot of fire power in them.

They can trigger and – yeah. The idea of people taking a position and they’re gambling. They’re not investing. Nobody’s investing when they buy, you know, some super charged index on, you know, how the VIX does or something like that.