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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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Cannabis

The Dramatic Rise and Fall of Cannabis Company Stocks

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The Dramatic Rise and Fall of Cannabis Company Stocks

The unprecedented expansion of cannabis across North America took the investment world by storm, as investors raced to cash in on the “green rush”.

Yet, even as changing regulations unlock new opportunities, it seems as though the cannabis stock bubble has already burst — at least temporarily.

Today’s visualization dives into the roller coaster of cannabis company stock valuations over the past few years, and which companies remain standing in this hazy market.

A Wild Ride for Cannabis Stocks

The North American Marijuana Index tracks the equally-weighted stocks of leading companies operating in the legal cannabis industry in U.S. and Canada. Companies listed on the index must have at least 50% of their business strategy focused on the legal industry, including ancillary operations that support companies and consumers.

At the tail-end of 2017, the promise of upcoming legalization in two immense markets—California state and Canada—had investors all fired up. The index’s low (105.31 on June 27th, 2017) shot up almost three times to 358.93 by January 8th, 2018.

Things took a sharp turn in the second quarter of 2019, as the expectations for cannabis company stocks encountered a harsh reality post-legalization.

IndexNorth America🇺🇸 U.S.🇨🇦 Canada
52-week High319.73137.07727.25
52-week Low110.1751.40195.73

Note: 52-week period data captures Dec 9th 2018-Dec 9th 2019.

What are the reasons behind such a nosedive? Could the cannabis industry still make a comeback in 2020? We look at some opposing perspectives to answer these questions.

So Much For the Green Rush

The cannabis industry is experiencing significant challenges. In the U.S., legal cannabis faces high taxes—come the new year, consumers in California will see an 80% mark-up on their cannabis at checkout, up from 60%.

North of the border, federal legalization led to immense consumer demand for Canadian cannabis—but supply can’t keep up. To make matters worse, retail stores are slow to roll out, which means Canada is feeling the crunch.

Steep prices, and difficulty purchasing products post-legalization, allow the black market to thrive. It’s clear many cannabis companies have taken a big hit as a result.

According to the Marijuana Index, here are the 10 biggest companies in the space now:

CompanySymbolMarket Cap (US$)Country
Canopy Growth Corp.NYSE: CGC$5.6B🇨🇦 Canada
Curaleaf HoldingsCNSX: CURA$3.67B🇺🇸 United States
GW Pharmaceuticals PLCNASDAQ: GWPH$2.98B🇬🇧 United Kingdom
Aurora Cannabis Inc.TSE: ACB$2.85B🇨🇦 Canada
Green Thumb Industries Inc.CNSX: GTII$2.42B🇺🇸 United States
Cronos Group inc.TSE: CRON$1.83B🇨🇦 Canada
Trulieve Cannabis CorpCNSX: TRUL$1.91B🇺🇸 United States
Tilray Inc. NASDAQ: TLRY$1.46B🇨🇦 Canada
Aphria Inc.TSE: APHA$0.96B🇨🇦 Canada
Harvest Health & Recreation Inc.CNSX: HARV$0.94B🇺🇸 United States

Note: Companies listed on a Canadian index have had their market cap converted from CAD$ to US$. Top 10 companies are based on those listed on the North American Marijuana Index. All values as of Dec 9th, 2019.

Only one company outside of North America—and even the cannabis sector—lands on this list. The UK-based Big Pharma company GW Pharmaceuticals is steadily growing its industry presence, as it currently holds 41 cannabis patents in the U.S. and Canada combined.

Still, even these big players have seen their valuations drop since the industry was at its peak. Unless the aforementioned issues are ironed out, investors may continue to pull their dollars from the cannabis industry.

A psychological shift has taken place from everyone wanting to own (cannabis) to everyone involved now feeling burned. I think many investors are now over it.

Chris Kerlow, portfolio manager at Richardson GMP

On the flip side, some investors aren’t calling it quits quite yet.

Long-Term Prospects Are High

While cannabis seems plagued with issues, some argue that these are simply short-term growing pains and will be solved as the industry matures.

Particularly in the U.S., experts predict that cannabis sales could reach immense heights in the next decade:

  1. $30 billion by 2025 (New Frontier Data)
  2. $50 billion by 2029 (Jefferies Group LLC)
  3. $75 billion by 2030 (Cowen Inc.)
  4. $100 billion by 2029 (Stifel Financial Corp)

Compared to a benchmark of $13.6 billion today, these numbers may seem ambitious—but they’re backed by major industry trends. 2020 could well be the year the market stabilizes, as consumers explore an array of retail options and vote with their wallets.

What’s more, key players in consumer industries—from alcohol and tobacco to beauty and fitness—are making big bets in cannabis and CBD-infused products. A higher number of partnerships could spark the next uptick for the industry’s potential.

The marijuana business is not for the faint of heart. But this is a big long-term game.

——Mark Zekulin, CEO of Canopy Growth Corp.

An Eye on What’s to Come

It’s clear there are differing viewpoints on the future of cannabis companies and their respective investors. As this snapshot of cannabis stocks unfolds and transforms in 2020 and beyond, could companies potentially buck the current trend and bounce back? Or will stocks continue to go up in smoke?

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Banks

The Making of a Mammoth Merger: Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade

A look at the histories of Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade, what comes next after the merger, and the potential impacts on the financial services industry.

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Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade: A Mammoth Merger

In this era of fierce competition in the discount brokerage space, scale might be the best recipe for success.

Charles Schwab has once again sent shockwaves through the financial services industry, announcing its intent to acquire TD Ameritrade. The all-stock deal — valued at approximately $26 billion — will see the two biggest publicly-traded discount brokers combine into a giant entity with over $5 trillion in client assets.

Today we dive into the history of these two companies, and what effect recent events may have on the financial services industry.

The Evolution of Charles Schwab

1975 – U.S. Congress deregulated the stock brokerage industry by stripping the NYSE of the power to determine the commission rates charged by its members. Discount brokers, which focused primarily on buying and selling securities, seized the opportunity to court more seasoned investors who might not require the advice or research offered by established brokers. It was during this transitional period that Charles Schwab opened a small brokerage in San Francisco and bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

1980s – The company experienced rapid growth thanks to a healthy marketing budget and innovations, such as the industry’s first 24-hour quotation service.

This fast success proved to be a double-edged sword. Charles Schwab became the largest discount broker in the U.S. by 1980, but profits were erratic, and the company was forced to rescind an initial public offering. Eventually, the company sold to BankAmerica Corporation for $55 million in stock. A mere four years later, Charles Schwab would purchase his namesake company back for $280 million.

1987 – By the time the company went public, Charles Schwab had five times as many customers as its nearest competitor, and profit margin twice as high as the industry average.

1990s – In the late ’90s, Charles Schwab moved into the top five among all U.S. brokerages, after a decade of steady growth.

2000s – The company made a number of acquisitions, including U.S. Trust, which was one of the nation’s leading wealth management firms, and most recently, the USAA’s brokerage and wealth management business.

The Race to $0

For Charles Schwab, the elimination of fees is the culmination of its founder’s vision of making investing “accessible to all”.

charles schwab falling trade fees

The company’s fees were slowly declining for decades. In late 2019, it finally took the plunge and introduced free online trading for U.S. stocks, exchange-traded funds, and options. The response was immediate and enthusiastic, with clients opening 142,000 new trading accounts in the first month alone.

Although Charles Schwab sent rivals scrambling to match its no-commission trade offer, fintech upstarts like Robinhood have offered free trading for years now. The “race to zero” reflects a broader generational shift, as millennials are simply more likely than earlier generations to expect services to be free.

The Evolution of TD Ameritrade

1975 – The origin of TD Ameritrade can be traced back to First Omaha Securities, a discount broker founded by Joe Ricketts. The company changed its name to TransTerra in 1987.

1988 – TransTerra’s subsidiary, Accutrade, was the first company to introduce touch-tone telephone trading, a major innovation at the time and one of the first early forays into automation.

Early 1990s – Ricketts’s willingness to integrate emerging technologies into the trading business helped his companies achieve impressive growth. In 1997 the company acquired K. Aufhauser & Co., the first company to run a trading website.

The Internet wasn’t a puzzle. We were crystal clear from the beginning that customers would migrate to this.

– Joe Ricketts (2000)

Late 1990s – The Ameritrade brand was solidified after the company changed its name from TransTerra to Ameritrade Holding Corporation in 1996. The newly named company completed an IPO the following year, and established its new brand Ameritrade, Inc., which amalgamated K. Aufhauser, eBroker, and other businesses into a unified entity.

2000s – Ameritrade entered the new millennium as the fifth largest online investment broker in the United States, fueled in part by marketing deals with AOL and MSN.

The modern incarnation of TD Ameritrade took shape in 2006, when TD Bank sold its TD Waterhouse USA brokerage unit to the Ameritrade Holding Corporation in a stock-and-cash deal valued at about $3.3 billion. At the time of the deal the new company ranked first in the U.S. by the number of daily trades.

2016 – TD Ameritrade acquired the discount brokerage Scottrade for about $4 billion. The deal brought 3 million client accounts and $170 billion in assets under management into the company, and quadrupled the size of its branch network.

What Comes Next?

Naturally, the announcement that these massive discount brokers plan to merge has generated a lot of speculation as to what this means for the two companies, and the broader brokerage industry as a whole.

Here are some of the consensus key predictions we’ve seen on the deal, from both media and industry publications:

  • After the deal is approved, the integration process will take 12 to 18 months. The combined company’s headquarters will relocate to a new office park in Westlake, Texas.
  • Charles Schwab’s average revenue per trade has dropped nearly 30% since Q1 2017, so the company will likely use scale to its advantage and monetize other products.
  • The merged company will continue to adopt features from fintech upstarts, such as the option to trade in fractional shares.
  • E*Trade, which was widely considered to be an acquisition target of Schwab or TD Ameritrade, may now face pressure to hunt for a deal elsewhere.

Even though these longtime rivals are now linking up, stiff competition in the financial services market is bound to keep everyone on their toes.

I think Joe Ricketts and I agree that our fierce competitiveness nearly 30 years ago is proof that market competition can be a source of miraculous innovation.

– Charles Schwab

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