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August 29, 2019 | Berkshire Shares Negative Now for 19 Months and Counting

Danielle Park

Portfolio Manager and President of Venable Park Investment Counsel (www.venablepark.com) Ms Park is a financial analyst, attorney, finance author and regular guest on North American media. She is also the author of the best-selling myth-busting book "Juggling Dynamite: An insider's wisdom on money management, markets and wealth that lasts," and a popular daily financial blog: www.jugglingdynamite.com

The financial press loves to flog viewers with bullish quotations at all times, but especially from Warren Buffett, and especially near cycle tops when valuations are the least attractive for investment.  See a detailed discussion in the recent article Warren Buffett is a hypocrite.

I last touched on this topic in a May 2018 article ‘Buffett indicator’ screaming ‘fire’ to risk-blind stockholders, to wit:

In recent years, I have written a few times about Why Buffett won’t warn that stocks are in a bubble. With more than $700 billion in assets under management, and positions too huge to move out of easily, Buffett’s fund has become synonymous with buy and hold, long-always stock holdings, that move up and down largely in lock step with the S&P 500.

Trouble is that since 1998 we have been moving through a secular bear market born of the highest valuations and worst investment return prospects in decades of market history.  And valuations are the most definitive factor in determining future returns.  Case in point, Berkshire Hathaway shares lost half of their market value in both of the last two bear markets along with the broad markets, and spent five+ years thereafter, just waiting to grow capital back to even.

The latest Berkshire’s shareholders’ annual meeting extravaganza held on May 5 attracted the usual media scrum with lots of hopeful hype about stock returns looking forward. The inconvenient truth however, is that on every metric, including Buffett’s self-named favorite valuation tool–being the total market capitalization of US stocks divided by US GDP (shown below since 1950)–stocks are screaming capital loss prospects, higher than in 2008 and nearly as high as the tech bubble top in 2000

Right on cue, after rising on QE flows into January 2018, Berkshire shares topped and are down nearly 5% over the past 19 months and counting.

The question for holders is how many years will it take to grow back principle after the full bear market has run its course, and how many will be able to hold on without liquidiating in losses in order to sleep at night or pay their bills.

At 86, and a billionaire, Buffett has more money than he can use.  Most others are not as old and certainly not as wealthy.  We cannot afford to do what Buffet says with our retirement savings.

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August 29th, 2019

Posted In: Juggling Dynamite

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