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Warren Buffett’s Biggest Wins & Fails

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Warren Buffett’s investing track record is nearly impeccable.

Over his lifetime, Buffett has built Berkshire Hathaway into one of the biggest companies in American history, amassed a personal fortune of over $80 billion, and earned acclaim as one of the world’s foremost philanthropists.

But in a 75-year career, it’s no surprise that even Buffett has made the odd blunder – and there’s one that he claims has ultimately costed him an estimated $200 billion!

The Warren Buffett Series

Part 4: Buffett’s Biggest Wins and Fails

Today’s infographic highlights Buffett’s investing strokes of genius, as well as a few decisions he would take back.

It’s the fourth part of the Warren Buffett Series, which we’ve done in partnership with finder.com, a personal finance site that helps people make better decisions – whether they want to dabble in cryptocurrencies or become the next famous value investor.

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

Warren Buffett's Biggest Wins and Fails
Note: New series parts will be released intermittently. Stay tuned for future parts with our free mailing list.

How did Buffett go from local paperboy to the world’s most iconic investor?

Here are the backstories behind five of Warren’s biggest acts of genius. These are the events and decisions that would propel his name into investing folklore for centuries to come.

Buffett’s 5 Biggest Wins

From making shrewd value investing calls to taking advantage of misfortune in the salad oil market, here are some of the stories that are Buffett classics:

1. GEICO (1951)
At 20 years old, Buffett was attending Columbia Business School, and was a student of Benjamin Graham’s.

When young Buffett learned that Graham was on the board of the Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO), he immediately took a train to Washington, D.C. to visit the company’s headquarters.

On a Saturday, Buffett banged on the door of the building until a janitor let him in, and Buffett met Lorimer Davidson – the future CEO of GEICO. Ultimately, Davidson spent four hours talking to this “highly unusual young man”.

He answered my questions, taught me the insurance business and explained to me the competitive advantage that GEICO had. That afternoon changed my life.

– Warren Buffett

By Monday, Buffett was “more excited about GEICO than any other stock in [his] life” and started buying it on the open market. He put 65% of his small fortune of $20,000 into GEICO, and the money he earned from the deal would provide a solid foundation for Buffett’s future fortune.

Although Buffett sold GEICO after locking in solid gains, the stock would rise as much as 100x over time. Buffett bought his favorite stock again a few years later, loaded up further during the 1970s, and eventually bought the whole company in the 1990s.

2. Sanborn Maps (1960)
This early deal may not be Buffett’s biggest – but it’s the clearest case of Benjamin Graham’s influence on his style.

Sanborn Maps had a lucrative business around making city maps for insurers, but eventually its mapping business started dying – and the falling stock price reflected this trend.

Buffett, after diving deep into the company’s financials, realized that Sanborn had a large investment portfolio that was built up over the company’s stronger years. Sanborn’s stock was worth $45 per share, but the value of the company’s investments tallied to $65 per share.

In other words, these investments held by the company were alone worth more than the stock – and that didn’t include the actual value of the map business itself!

Buffett accumulated the stock in 1958 and 1959, eventually putting 35% of his partnership assets in it. Then, he became a director, and convinced other shareholders to use the investment portfolio to buy out stockholders. He walked away with a 50% profit.

3. The Salad Oil Swindle (1963)
For a value investor like Buffett, every mishap is a potential opportunity.

And in 1963, a con artist named Anthony “Tino” De Angelis inadvertently set Buffett up for a massive home run. After De Angelis attempted to corner the soybean oil market using false inventories and loans, the market subsequently collapsed.

American Express – the world’s largest credit card company at the time – got caught up in the disaster, and its stock price halved as investors thought the company would fail.

Although everyone else panicked, Buffett knew the scandal wouldn’t affect the overall value of the business. He was right – and bought 5% of American Express for $20 million. By 1973, Buffett’s investment increased ten times in value.

4. Capital Cities / ABC (1985)
In the 1980s, corporate raiders and takeover madness reigned supreme.

The massive TV network ABC found itself vulnerable, and sold itself to a company that promised to keep its legacy intact. Capital Cities, a relative unknown and a fraction of the size, had somehow managed to buy ABC.

The CEO of Cap Cities, Tom Murphy – one of Buffett’s favorite managers in the world – gave Warren a call:

Pal, you’re not going to believe this. I’ve just bought ABC. You’ve got to come and tell me how I’m going to pay for it.

– Tom Murphy, Capital Cities CEO

Berkshire dropped $500 million to finance the deal. This turned Buffett into Murphy’s much-needed “900-lb gorilla” – a loyal shareholder that would hold onto shares regardless of price, as Murphy figured out how to turn the company around.

It turned out to be a fantastic gamble for Buffett, as Capital Cities/ABC sold to Disney for $19 billion in 1995.

5. Freddie Mac (1988)
Buffett started loading up on shares of Freddie Mac in 1988 for $4 per share.

By 2000, Buffett noticed the company was taking unnecessary risks to deliver double-digit growth. This risk, and its short-term focus, turned Buffett off the company. As a result, at a share price close to $70, he sold virtually all of his holdings, enjoying a return of more than 1,500%.

I figure if you see just one cockroach, there’s probably a lot.

– Warren Buffett

Later on, Freddie Mac’s business would collapse in the housing crisis, only to be taken over by the U.S. federal government. Today, its stock sells for a mere $1.50 per share.

Buffett’s Blunders

Over the course of 75 years, it’s not surprising that even Buffett has made some serious mistakes. Here are his costliest ones:

1. Berkshire Hathaway (1962)
When Buffett first invested in Berkshire Hathaway, it was a fledgling textile company.

Buffett eventually tried to pull out, but the company changed the terms of the deal at the last minute. Buffett was spiteful, and loaded up with enough stock to fire the CEO that deceived him.

The textiles business was terrible and sucked up capital – and Berkshire unintentionally would become Buffett’s holding company for other deals. This mistake, he estimates, costed him an estimated $200 billion.

2. Dexter Shoes (1993)
Dexter Shoe Co. had a long, profitable history, an enduring franchise, and suberb management. In other words, it was the exact kind of company Buffett liked.

Buffett dropped $433 million in 1993 to buy the company, but the company’s competitive advantage soon waned. To make matters worse, Warren Buffett financed the deal with Berkshire’s own stock, compounding the mistake hugely. It ended up costing the company $3.5 billion.

To date, Dexter is the worst deal that I’ve made. But I’ll make more mistakes in the future – you can bet on that.

– Warren Buffett

Later on, Buffett would say that this deal deserved a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as a top financial disaster.

3. Amazon.com (2000s)
Buffett says not buying Amazon was one of his biggest mistakes.

I did not think [founder Jeff Bezos] could succeed on the scale he has. [I] underestimated the brilliance of the execution.

– Warren Buffett

Given that Amazon has shot up in value to become one of the most valuable companies in the world, and that Jeff Bezos is by now the far richest person globally, it’s fair to say this whiff continues to haunt Buffett to this day.

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The World’s 20 Most Profitable Companies

Saudi Aramco, the state oil producer in Saudi Arabia, rakes in $304 million of profit per day – putting it atop the list of the world’s most profitable companies.

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The World’s 20 Most Profitable Companies

The biggest chunk of the earnings pie is increasingly split by fewer and fewer companies.

In the U.S. for example, about 50% of all profit generated by public companies goes to just 30 companies — back in 1975, it took 109 companies to accomplish the same feat:

YearNumber of Firms Generating 50% of EarningsTotal Public Companies (U.S.)Portion (%)
19751094,8192.2%
2015303,7660.8%

This power-law dynamic also manifests itself at a global level — and perhaps it’s little surprise that the world’s most profitable companies generate mind-bending returns that would make any accountant blush.

Which Company Makes the Most Per Day?

Today’s infographic comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it uses data from Fortune to illustrate how much profit top global companies actually rake in on a daily basis.

The 20 most profitable companies in the world are listed below in order, and we’ve also broken the same data down per second:

RankCompanyCountryProfit per DayProfit Per Second
#1Saudi Aramco🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$304,039,726$3,519
#2Apple🇺🇸 United States$163,098,630$1,888
#3Industrial & Commercial Bank of China🇨🇳 China$123,293,973$1,427
#4Samsung Electronics🇰🇷 South Korea$109,301,918$1,265
#5China Construction Bank🇨🇳 China$105,475,068$1,221
#6JPMorgan Chase & Co.🇺🇸 United States$88,969,863$1,030
#7Alphabet🇺🇸 United States$84,208,219$975
#8Agricultural Bank of China🇨🇳 China$83,990,411$972
#9Bank of America Corp.🇺🇸 United States$77,115,068$893
#10Bank of China🇨🇳 China$74,589,589$863
#11Royal Dutch Shell🇬🇧 🇳🇱 UK/Netherlands$63,978,082$740
#12Gazprom🇷🇺 Russia$63,559,178$736
#13Wells Fargo🇺🇸 United States$61,350,685$710
#14Facebook🇺🇸 United States$60,580,822$701
#15Intel🇺🇸 United States$57,679,452$668
#16Exxon Mobil🇺🇸 United States$57,095,890$661
#17AT&T🇺🇸 United States$53,068,493$614
#18Citigroup🇺🇸 United States$49,438,356$572
#19Toyota Motor🇯🇵 Japan$46,526,027$538
#20China Development Bank🇨🇳 China$45,874,795$531

The Saudi Arabian Oil Company, known to most as Saudi Aramco, is by far the world’s most profitable company, raking in a stunning $304 million of profits every day. When translated to a more micro scale, that works out to $3,519 per second.

You’ve likely seen Saudi Aramco in the news lately, though for other reasons.

The giant state-owned company has been rearing to go public at an aggressive $2 trillion valuation, but it’s since delayed that IPO multiple times, most recently stating the listing will take place in December 2019 or January 2020. Company-owned refineries were also the subject of drone attacks last month, which took offline 5.7 million bpd of oil production temporarily.

Despite these challenges, Saudi Aramco still stands pretty tall — after all, such blows are softened when you churn out the same amount of profit as Apple, Alphabet, and Facebook combined.

Numbers on an Annual Basis

Bringing in over $300 million per day of profit is pretty hard to comprehend, but the numbers are even more unfathomable when they are annualized.

RankCompanyCountryProfit
#1Saudi Aramco🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$110,974,500,000
#2Apple🇺🇸 United States$59,531,000,000
#3Industrial & Commercial Bank of China🇨🇳 China$45,002,300,000
#4Samsung Electronics🇰🇷 South Korea$39,895,200,000
#5China Construction Bank🇨🇳 China$38,498,400,000
#6JPMorgan Chase & Co.🇺🇸 United States$32,474,000,000
#7Alphabet🇺🇸 United States$30,736,000,000
#8Agricultural Bank of China🇨🇳 China$30,656,500,000
#9Bank of America Corp.🇺🇸 United States$28,147,000,000
#10Bank of China🇨🇳 China$27,225,200,000
#11Royal Dutch Shell🇬🇧 🇳🇱 UK/Netherlands$23,352,000,000
#12Gazprom🇷🇺 Russia$23,199,100,000
#13Wells Fargo🇺🇸 United States$22,393,000,000
#14Facebook🇺🇸 United States$22,112,000,000
#15Intel🇺🇸 United States$21,053,000,000
#16Exxon Mobil🇺🇸 United States$20,840,000,000
#17AT&T🇺🇸 United States$19,370,000,000
#18Citigroup🇺🇸 United States$18,045,000,000
#19Toyota Motor🇯🇵 Japan$16,982,000,000
#20China Development Bank🇨🇳 China$16,744,300,000

On an annual basis, Saudi Aramco is raking in $111 billion of profit per year, and that’s with oil prices sitting in the $50-$70 per barrel range.

To put this number in perspective, take a look at Chevron. The American oil giant is one of the 20 biggest companies on the S&P 500, but it generated just $15 billion in profit in 2018 and currently sits at a $221 billion market capitalization.

That puts Chevron’s profits at roughly 10% of Aramco’s — and if Aramco does IPO at a $2 trillion valuation, that would put Chevron at roughly 10% of its market cap, as well.

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Mapped: The World’s Top 10 Cities in 2035

Cities are heavy hitters in the global economy. Where will the top 10 cities be in 2035—based on GDP, population, and annual growth?

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Mapped: Where Will The Top 10 Cities Be in 2035?

Cities are the engines of the modern economy. Over half of the world now lives in urban areas, and urbanization continues to shape the trajectory of global growth in unprecedented ways.

However, the most important cities of today may be quite different than those leading the charge in the future. This week’s chart looks forward to 2035, using a report by Oxford Economics to forecast the top 10 cities by measures of economic size, population, and GDP growth rate.

Each map is categorized by one of these metrics—and depending on which one you look at, the leaders vary greatly.

Top 10 Cities by Projected GDP

The top 10 cities by gross domestic product (GDP) in 2035 will be fairly widespread. Three cities are expected to be in the U.S.—New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The Big Apple’s forecasted $2.5 trillion GDP likely stems from its strong banking and finance sectors.

RankCityCountry2035 GDP
#1New York🇺🇸 United States$2.5T
#2Tokyo🇯🇵 Japan$1.9T
#3Los Angeles🇺🇸 United States$1.5T
#4London🇬🇧 United Kingdom$1.3T
#5Shanghai🇨🇳 China$1.3T
#6Beijing🇨🇳 China$1.1T
#7Paris🇫🇷 France$1.1T
#8Chicago🇺🇸 United States$1.0T
#9Guangzhou🇨🇳 China$0.9T
#10Shenzhen🇨🇳 China$0.9T

Four cities will be found in China, while London, Paris, and Tokyo are set to round out the last three. Interestingly, Tokyo is the #1 city today, with an estimated $1.6 trillion GDP in 2019.

Altogether, these top 10 cities will contribute an impressive $13.5 trillion in GDP by 2035. Clusters of such metropolitan areas are typically considered megaregions—which account for a large share of global economic activity.

Top 10 Cities by Future Population

Next, it’s clear that top cities by population will follow a distinct global distribution. By 2035, the most highly-populated cities will shift towards the East, with seven cities located in Asia.

RankCityCountry2035 Population
#1Jakarta🇮🇩 Indonesia38 million
#2Tokyo🇯🇵 Japan37.8 million
#3Chongqing🇨🇳 China32.2 million
#4Dhaka🇧🇩 Bangladesh31.2 million
#5Shanghai🇨🇳 China25.3 million
#6Karachi🇵🇰 Pakistan24.8 million
#7Kinshasa🇨🇩 DR Congo24.7 million
#8Lagos🇳🇬 Nigeria24.2 million
#9Mexico City🇲🇽 Mexico23.5 million
#10Mumbai🇮🇳 India23.1 million

While Jakarta’s 38 million-strong population is expected to emerge in first place, the city may not retain its status as Indonesia’s capital for much longer. Rising sea levels and poor water infrastructure management mean that Jakarta is rapidly sinking—and the government now plans to pivot the capital to Borneo island.

On the African continent, Kinshasa and Lagos are already among the world’s largest megacities (home to over 10 million people), and will hold top spots by the turn of the century.

Population and demographics can be major assets to a country’s growth. For example, India’s burgeoning working-age demographics will present a unique advantage—and the country is projected to contain several of the fastest growing cities in the coming years.

Top 10 Cities By Estimated Annual GDP Growth

When comparing cities based on their pace of economic growth, there are some clear standouts. Average annual GDP growth across cities is 2.6%, but the top 10 surpass this by a fair amount.

The kicker? All of 2035’s major players will be found in Asia: four of the fastest-growing cities will be in mainland China, another four in India, and the last two in Southeast Asia.

RankCityCountryAnnual Growth
#1Bengaluru🇮🇳 India8.5%
#2Dhaka🇧🇩 Bangladesh7.6%
#3Mumbai🇮🇳 India6.6%
#4Delhi🇮🇳 India6.5%
#5Shenzhen🇨🇳 China5.3%
#6Jakarta🇮🇩 Indonesia5.2%
#7Manila🇵🇭 Philippines5.2%
#8Tianjin🇨🇳 China5.1%
#9Shanghai🇨🇳 China5.0%
#10Chongqing🇨🇳 China4.9%

At #1 by 2035 is Bangalore with an expected 8.5% annual growth forecast—its high-quality talent pool makes the city a breeding ground for tech startups. Jakarta makes another appearance, with its projected 5.2% growth at double the city average.

Shanghai finds its way onto all three lists. The commercial capital hosts the world’s busiest port, and one of China’s two major stock exchanges. These sectors could help boost Shanghai’s annual GDP growth to 5% in 2035.

Looking to the Future

Of course, any number of variables could impact these 2035 projections, from financial recessions and political uncertainty, to rapid urbanization and technological advances.

But one thing’s certain—in the coming decades, cities are where many of these factors will converge and play out.

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