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How do you get better at valuing companies?

Warren Buffett: Very very good question. I started out not knowing anything about valuing companies. Ben Graham taught me a way to value certain type of business, but the selection of available companies dried up. Charlie taught me about durable competitive advantage. Not how big circle of competence is, but knowing where the edges are is most important. Think about businesses in your own home town. Ask questions about the businesses. Which do you want to buy into, which are hard to compete with, talk about businesses with people. What is working, what is not? You have to ask. You would be surprised at how many companies I know nothing about. The goal is to find companies that will be around for 20 years and offer a margin of safety. You have to recognize your limitations to be successful in this business. 6-7yrs ago I looked at Korean stocks, and I could see a number of businesses that met margin of safety. I bought 20 and diversified.

Charles Munger : Obviously if you want to get good at something which is competitive, you have to think about it and practice a lot. You have to keep learning because world keeps changing and competitors keep learning. You have to go to bed wiser than you got up. As you try to master what you are trying to do – people who do that almost never fail utterly. Very few have ever failed with that approach. You may rise slowly, but you are sure to rise.

Warren Buffett : When did you start valuing businesses?

Charles Munger : I never took a business class, except accounting. When I was a boy, there was a man who came to the club every day at 10:30am. I asked my dad about him – he had such a good life! My Dad said, “He gathers up and renders dead horses.” I learned from that. Many businesses are sold under distress. Life is hard to get near top, and hard to hold position once attained. I think you could predict that Kiewits would win, they cared more. I would not have bet on anyone else. Half Dutch half German – and that is coming from me, I’m named Munger. I was automatically doing it – what was working and what wasn’t. If you have that temperament, you will gradually learn. If you don’t have that temperament, I can’t help you.

Warren Buffett : Avoiding the dumb things is the most important. Learn more, know limitations, avoid the dumb things. Charlie often thought about his client’s business. He was incapable of thinking about a business without noticing the fundamental economics.

Charles Munger: I had a client who sold a Caterpillar dealership business for a crazy price to an oil business. The oil business had consultants and a concept and a strategy!

Source: Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting
Time: 2010

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