Infographic: The Remarkable Early Years of Warren Buffett
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The Remarkable Early Years of Warren Buffett

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For most people, the “Oracle of Omaha” needs no introduction. With a self-made net worth of $84 billion, some experts consider the 87-year-old to be the greatest investor of all-time.

Despite his incredible achievements and decades in the public eye, the modest Midwesterner is frugal, relatable, and full of humility – and his life story is an endless source of lessons to aspiring business professionals around the world.

The Warren Buffett Series

Part 1: The Early Years

Today’s infographic, which is done in partnership with finder.com, is Part 1 of the Warren Buffett Series, a five-part biographical series about the legendary investor.

The Warren Buffet Series: The Early YearsInside Warren Buffett's BrainPart 3Warren Buffett's Biggest Wins and FailsBest Buffett Quotes

The Warren Buffett Series: The Early Years
Note: Stay tuned for future parts with our free mailing list.

The young Warren Buffett was clearly a special kid. He ran his first “business” when he was five years old, and he invested in his first stock when he was 11. Buffett even managed to emerge from high school richer than his teachers.

But what lessons can we learn from Buffett’s prolific childhood – and how did his experiences as a young man shape him into the magnate we know today?

From Numbers to Dollar Signs

Even for someone as gifted and focused as Buffett, a serendipitous insight played a crucial role in charting his future course.

During a visit to the New York Stock Exchange when he was 10 years old, the sight of a young man rolling custom, handmade cigars on the floor made an outsized impact on him. In particular, Buffett realized that such a job couldn’t exist without massive amounts of money flowing through the stock market.

This unexpected epiphany planted the seed for stocks in his brain, and Warren’s long fascination with numbers soon shifted towards dollars.

The Buffett Growth Mindset

Warren Buffett famously spends 80% of his day reading – and the written word was just as important to his younger self. As a lad, one book that caught Buffett’s eye was One Thousand Ways to Make $1,000 by F.C. Minaker

Specifically, the book showed Buffett how $1,000 could compound over time – and that the earlier you had money working for you, the better.

An important lesson from the book? There’s a massive difference in returns between 60 and 70 year compound interest scenarios. In other words, annualized returns are just one part of the equation – but how long the money compounds is the other crucial part. This is a big part of the reason why Warren Buffett got started early.

Warren Buffett’s First Stock

Through his various activities, Buffett had $120 saved by age 11. Naturally, he invested it in a stock, co-investing his sister’s money. They each bought three shares of Cities Service Preferred for $38.25 each.

The share price promptly dropped to $27, but Buffett waited it out. When it got to $40, he sold to net a small profit – however, the stock soon after went all the way to $202!

Warren calls this one of the most important moments in his life, and he learned three lessons:

  1. Don’t overly fixate on what he paid for the stock
  2. Don’t rush unthinkingly to grab a small profit. He could have made $492 if he was more patient
  3. He didn’t want to have responsibility for anyone else’s money unless he was sure he could succeed

These important lessons would eventually tie in well to his value investing philosophy.

Odd Jobs

The young Buffett wasn’t afraid to try new things to build up his capital. He collected golf balls, sold peanuts and popcorn, sold gum and Coca-Cola, and even created tipsheets for horse races on a typewriter.

Some of his stranger endeavors? He launched Buffett’s Approval Service and sold stamps to collectors around the country, and he also launched Buffett’s Showroom Shine – a car shining business that didn’t last too long.

Warren’s Work Ethic

By the end of high school, Buffett had launched multiple businesses, sold thousands of golf balls, read at least 100 books on business, and hawked 600,000 newspapers.

This hard work led to him having a fortune of $5,000 by high school graduation time, the equivalent of $55,000 in today’s currency. He even owned land at this point, after buying 40 acres of Nebraska farmland with his newspaper profits.

Knocked Off Course

After high school, Buffett decided he was a shoe-in for Harvard. He knew it would be stimulating for him intellectually, and that the famed business school would allow him to develop a strong network.

The only problem? He got rejected.

Instead of letting this get to him, he discovered Benjamin Graham’s book The Intelligent Investor and fell in love. It was the methodical investing framework he needed, and he would later call it the “best book about investing ever written”.

Buffett would soon be accepted at Columbia Business School, where Benjamin Graham and David Dodd taught finance. Graham became Buffett’s idol, and his second-biggest influence behind his own father.

Other Notes

Part 2 of the Warren Buffett Series will be released in early January 2018.

Credits: This infographic would not be possible without the great biographies done by Roger Lowenstein (Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist) and Alice Schroeder (The Snowball), as well as numerous other sources cataloging Buffett’s life online.

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Investor Education

The Best Months for Stock Market Gains

This infographic analyzes over 30 years of stock market performance to identify the best and worst months for gains.

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The Best Months for Stock Market Gains

Many investors believe that equity markets perform better during certain times of the year.

Is there any truth to these claims, or is it superstitious nonsense? This infographic uses data gathered by Schroders, a British asset management firm, to investigate.

What the Data Says

This analysis is based on 31 years of performance across four major stock indexes:

  • FTSE 100: An index of the top 100 companies on the London Stock Exchange (LSE)
  • MSCI World: An index of over 1,000 large and mid-cap companies within developed markets
  • S&P 500: An index of the 500 largest companies that trade on U.S. stock exchanges
  • Eurostoxx 50: An index of the top 50 blue-chip stocks within the Eurozone region

The percentages in the following table represent the historical frequency of these indexes rising in a given month, between the years 1987 and 2018. Months are ordered from best to worst, in descending order.

RankMonth of Year Frequency of Growth (%)Difference from Mean (p.p.)
#1December79.0%+19.9
#2April74.3%+15.2
#3October68.6%+9.5
#4July61.7%+2.6
#5May58.6%-0.5
#6November58.4%-0.7
#7January57.8%-1.3
#8February57.0%-2.1
#9March56.3%-2.8
#10September51.6%-7.5
#11August49.3%-9.8
#12June36.7%-22.4
Average59.1%n/a

There are some outliers in this dataset that we’ll focus on below.

The Strong Months

In terms of frequency of growth, December has historically been the best month to own stocks. This lines up with a phenomenon known as the “Santa Claus Rally”, which suggests that equity markets rally over Christmas.

One theory is that the holiday season has a psychological effect on investors, driving them to buy rather than sell. We can also hypothesize that many institutional investors are on vacation during this time. This could give bullish retail investors more sway over the direction of the market.

The second best month was April, which is commonly regarded as a strong month for the stock market. One theory is that many investors receive their tax refunds in April, which they then use to buy stocks. The resulting influx of cash pushes prices higher.

Speaking of higher prices, we can also look at this trend from the perspective of returns. Focusing on the S&P 500, and looking back to 1928, April has generated an average return of 0.88%. This is well above the all-month average of 0.47%.

The Weak Months

The three worst months to own stocks, according to this analysis, are June, August, and September. Is it a coincidence that they’re all in the summer?

One theory for the season’s relative weakness is that institutional traders are on vacation, similar to December. Without the holiday cheer, however, the market is less frothy and the reduced liquidity leads to increased risk.

Whether you believe this or not, the data does show a convincing pattern. It’s for this reason that the phrase “sell in May and go away” has become popularized.

Key Takeaways

Investors should remember that this data is based on historical results, and should not be used to make forward-looking decisions in the stock market.

Anomalies like the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 can have a profound impact on the world, and the market as a whole. Stock market performance during these times may deviate greatly from their historical averages seen above.

Regardless, this analysis can still be useful to investors who are trying to understand market movements. For example, if stocks rise in December without any clear catalyst, it could be the famed Santa Claus Rally at work.

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Investor Education

A Visual Guide to Stock Splits

If companies want their stock price to rise, why would they want to split it, effectively lowering the price? This infographic explains why.

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A Visual Guide to Stock Splits

Imagine a shop window containing large pieces of cheese.

If the value of that cheese rises over time, the price may move beyond what the majority of people are willing to pay. This presents a problem as the store wants to continue selling cheese, and people still want to eat it.

The obvious solution is to divide the cheese into smaller pieces. That way, more people can once again afford to buy portions of it, and those who want more can simply buy more of the smaller pieces.

cheese and stock splits

The total volume of the cheese is still worth the same amount, it’s only the portion size that changed. As the infographic above by StocksToTrade demonstrates, the same concept applies to stock splits.

Like wheels of cheese, stocks can be split a number of different ways. Some of the more common splits are 2-for-1, 3-for-1, and 3-for-2. Less common splits can take place as well, such as when Apple increased its outstanding shares by a 7-to-1 ratio in 2014.

Why Companies Do Stock Splits

Of course, stocks aren’t cheese.

The real world of the financial markets, driven by macro trends and animal spirits, is more complex than items in a shop window.

If companies want their stock price to continue rising, why would they want to split it, effectively lowering the price? Here are a some specific reasons why:

1. Liquidity
As our cheese example illustrated, stocks can sometimes see price appreciation to the point where they are no longer accessible to a wide range of investors. Splitting the stock (i.e. making an individual share cheaper) is an effective way of increasing the total number of investors who can purchase shares.

2. Sending a Message
In many cases, announcing a stock split is a harbinger of prosperity for a company. Nasdaq found that companies that split their stock outperformed the market. This is likely due to investor excitement and the fact that companies often split their stock as they approach periods of growth.

3. Reducing Capital Costs
Stocks with prices that are too high have spreads that are wider than similar stocks. When spreads—the difference between the bid and offer—are too large, they eats into investor returns.

4. Meeting Index Criteria
There are specific instances when a company may want to adjust its share price to meet certain index requirements.

One example is the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), the well-known 30-stock benchmark. The Dow is considered a price-weighted index, which means that the higher a company’s stock price, the more weight and influence it has within the index. Shortly after Apple conducted its 7-to-1 stock split in 2014, dropping the share price from about $650 to $90, the company was added to the DJIA.

On the flip side, a company might decide to pursue a reverse stock split. This takes the existing amount of shares held by investors and replaces them with fewer shares at a higher price. Aside from the general stigma associated with a lower share price, companies need to keep the price above a certain threshold or face the possibility of being delisted from an exchange.

Stock Splits Happen, but are not Inevitable

Alphabet will become the most recent high profile company to split their stock in early 2022. The company’s 20-for-1 stock split aims to make the share price more accessible to retail investors dropping the price from approximately $2,750 to $140 per share.

Conversely, Berkshire Hathaway has famously never split its stock. As a result, a single share of BRK.A is worth over $470,000. Berkshire Hathaway’s legendary founder, Warren Buffett, reasons that splitting the stock would run counter to his buy-and-hold investment philosophy.

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