Legendary investor Warren Buffett was asked at one of his famous annual meetings one time whether he was bullish or bearish?
The ‘Oracle of Omaha’ had an amazing answer:
“You may have trouble believing this, but Charlie (Munger) and I never have an opinion about the market because it wouldn’t be any good and it might interfere with the opinions we have that are good… If we’re right about a business, if we think a business is attractive, it would be very foolish for us to not take action on that because we thought something about what the market was going to do, or anything of that sort….Because we just don’t know. And to give up something that you do know and that is profitable for something that you don’t know and won’t know because of that, it just doesn’t make any sense to us, and it doesn’t really make any difference to us.”
The chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway learned this lesson, he recounted at Berkshire Hathaway’s 1994 annual meeting, by realizing all the amazing and scary events of the 20th century that he had invested through since buying his first stock when he was just a young boy and how that in the end, long-term investing still worked out.
“I bought my first stock in, probably, April of 1942 when I was 11. And since then, I mean, actually World War II didn’t look so good at that time. I mean, the prospects, they really didn’t. I mean, you know, we were not doing well in the Pacific. I’m not sure I calculated that into my purchase of my three shares. But I mean, just think of all the things that have happened since then, you know? Atomic weapons and major wars, presidents resigning, and all kinds of things… massive inflation at certain times. To give up what you’re doing well because of guesses about what’s going to happen in some macro way just doesn’t make any sense to us.”
While these comments were made more than two decades ago, they still hold true amid the divisive political headlines and volatile stock market of today.
Buffett’s advice is to make a long-term bet on the American economy. Don’t try to time bull and bear markets. Ignore the noise and look for solid companies at cheap prices. And buy those shares steadily over time, no matter the macroeconomic environment. If you’re not a professional investor, Buffett advocates buying an index fund in the same fashion, never trying to time your purchases.
The 88-year-old investor has basically been making a massive bet on America this whole time. Through his steady stock and company purchases, Berkshire Hathaway has returned 20 percent annually the last 40 years, double the return of the S&P 500 over that same time span, according to Factset.
For more classic Warren Buffett advice, see CNBC’s Buffett archive.
— With reporting by Alex Crippen