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.
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.
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.
All the World’s Coal Power Plants in One Map
Today’s interactive map shows all of the world’s coal power plants, plotted by capacity and carbon emissions from 2000 until 2018.
All The World’s Coal Power Plants in One Map
The use of coal for fuel dates back thousands of years.
Demand for the energy source really started to soar during the Industrial Revolution, and it continues to power some of the world’s largest economies today. However, as the clean energy revolution heats up, will coal continue to be a viable option?
Today’s data visualization from Carbon Brief maps the changing number of global coal power plants operating between 2000 and 2018. The interactive timeline pulls from the Global Coal Plant Tracker’s latest data and features around 10,000 retired, operating, and planned coal units, totaling close to 3,000 gigawatts (GW) of capacity across 95 countries.
On the map, each circular icon’s size represents each plant’s coal capacity in megawatts (MW). The data also highlights the type of coal burned and the CO₂ emissions produced as a result.
A Precarious Power Source
Throughout its history, coal has been used for everything from domestic heating and steel manufacturing, to railways, gas works, and electricity. The fuel played a pivotal role in powering economic development, and had a promising future with a flurry of plant openings.
However, in 2016, coal output dropped by 231 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe). Combined with a rapid slowdown of new plants being built, total coal units operating around the world fell for the first time in 2018.
With the remaining fleet of plants operating fewer hours than ever, plant closures have been triggered in South Africa, India, and China—steadily eroding coal’s bottom line. Industry trends have also forced a wave of coal companies to recently declare bankruptcy, including giants such as Peabody Energy and Alpha Natural.
Can Coal Compete with Clean Energy?
Today, coal is experiencing fierce competition from low-priced natural gas and ever-cheaper renewable power—most notably from wind and solar. Further, solar power costs will continue to decline each year and be cut in half by 2020, relative to 2015 figures.
Natural gas surpassed coal as America’s #1 power source in 2016, with the total share of power generated from coal tumbling from 45% in 2010 to 28% in 2018. By next year, the role of coal is expected to be further reduced to 24% of the mix.
On the interactive visualization, the decline of coal is especially evident in 2018 as plant closures sweep across the map. The chart shows how several countries, notably China and India, have been closing many hundreds of smaller, older, and less efficient units, but replacing them with larger and more efficient models.
As of today, China retains the largest fleet of coal plants, consuming a staggering 45% of the world’s coal.
Use the above slider to see the difference between China’s coal plants in 2000 with projected future capacity.
Towards a New Reality
Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel, and for every tonne of coal burned there are approximately 2.5 tonnes of carbon emissions. The International Energy Agency states that all unabated coal must be phased out within a few decades if global warming is to be limited.
Despite these warnings, global coal demand is set to remain stable for the next five years, with declines in the U.S. and Europe offset by immediate growth in India and China. The latter are the main players in the global coal market, but will eventually see a gradual decline in demand as they move away from industrialization.
A total phaseout of unabated coal is planned by 14 of the world’s 78 coal-powered countries, with many of these countries working to convert coal capacity to natural gas.
As the price of premium solar generation drops steadily, and innovation in renewable energy technology becomes more prominent, the world is shifting its attention to a clean energy economy. A global revival of coal looks less and less likely—and the fossil fuel might very well one day become obsolete.
Editor’s Note: The map uses WebGL and will not work on some older browsers. The map may also fail to load if you are using an ad-blocking browser plugin.
The Big Pharma Takeover of Medical Cannabis
The Big Pharma industry is entering the cannabis space, by swapping patients for patents. But what are the impacts of such a takeover?
The Big Pharma Takeover of Medical Cannabis
As evidence of cannabis’ many benefits mounts, so does the interest from the global pharmaceutical industry, known as Big Pharma. The entrance of such behemoths will radically transform the cannabis industry—once heavily stigmatized, it is now a potentially game-changing source of growth for countless companies.
Today’s infographic comes to us from CB2 Insights, and explores how and why the notorious Big Pharma are interested in the nascent cannabis industry.
Who are “Big Pharma”?
The term refers to some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, considered especially influential as a group. To give a sense of their sheer size, the market cap of the top 10 Big Pharma companies is $1.7 trillion—Johnson & Johnson being the largest, with a market capitalization of $374 billion.
So far, Big Pharma has watched the cannabis industry from the sidelines, deterred by regulatory concerns. What we are seeing now is the sleeping giant’s takeover slowly intensifying as more patents, partnerships, and sponsored clinical trials come to fruition.
Could Cannabis be Sold Over the Counter?
The cannabis plant has been used in medicine for 6,000 years. However, there is still considerable debate around the role it plays in healthcare today. There are currently almost 400 active and completed clinical trials worldwide surrounding cannabidiol (CBD), a type of cannabinoid that makes up 40% of the cannabis plant’s extract.
Cannabis relies on CBD’s therapeutic properties, and recent studies suggest it may be useful in combating a variety of health conditions, such as:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Cancer side effects
As of 2019, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical use. Its potential for pain management has led some experts to recommend it as an alternative to addictive painkillers, with one study of 13 states showing opiate-related deaths decreasing by over 33% in the six years since medical cannabis was legalized.
As the industry evolves, data is becoming increasingly important in understanding the potential of cannabis—both as a viable medical treatment, and as a recreational product. The shift away from anecdotal evidence towards big data will inform future policies, and give rise to a new era of consumer education.
Big Pharma’s Foray into Cannabis
Further legalization of cannabis will challenge Big Pharma’s bottom line, and poach more than $4 billion from pharma sales annually. In fact, medical cannabis sales are projected to reach $5.9 billion in 2019, from an estimated 24 million patients.
Seven of Canada’s top 10 cannabis patent holders are major multinational pharmaceutical companies, a trend that is not unique to Canada.
|Company Rank||🇨🇦 Canadian Patents||Company Rank||🇺🇸 U.S. Patents|
|1. Novartis||21||1. Abbvie||59|
|2. Pfizer||14||2. Sanofie||39|
|3. GW Pharmaceuticals||13||3. Merck||35|
|4. Ericsson||13||4. Bristol-Myers Squibb||34|
|5. Merck||11||5. GW Pharmaceuticals||28|
|6. Solvay Pharmaceuticals||7||6. Pfizer||25|
|7. Kao Corporation||7||7. Hebrew University of Jerusalem||19|
|8. Ogeda SA||7||8. Roche||17|
|9. Sanofi||6||9. University of Connecticut||16|
|10. University of Connecticut||6||10. U.S. Health and Human Services||13|
It comes as no surprise that many pharmaceutical giants have already formed strong partnerships with cannabis companies, such as Novartis and Tilray, who will develop and distribute medical cannabis together in legal jurisdictions around the world.
Data is the Missing Link
While the body of knowledge about the many uses of cannabis continue to grow, clinical evidence is key for widespread adoption.
Products backed by data will be a defining criteria for major companies to come into the market en masse. And ultimately, Big Pharma’s entry could accelerate public understanding and confidence in cannabis as a viable option for a range of ailments, and mark the next major milestone for the industry.
Markets7 months ago
The Jeff Bezos Empire in One Giant Chart
Maps9 months ago
Mercator Misconceptions: Clever Map Shows the True Size of Countries
Advertising6 months ago
Meet Generation Z: The Newest Member to the Workforce
Misc9 months ago
24 Cognitive Biases That Are Warping Your Perception of Reality
Advertising5 months ago
How the Tech Giants Make Their Billions
Technology8 months ago
The 20 Internet Giants That Rule the Web
Chart of the Week7 months ago
Chart: The World’s Largest 10 Economies in 2030
Environment6 months ago
The World’s 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side