Every year, Warren Buffet issues his annual investment letter. Unlike slick corporate annual reports, the second richest man in the world’s scrawl on Berkshire Hathaway’s investment portfolio is a folksy down-to-earth business tome.

Like the sensation I receive from anticipating the weekly New Yorker, every year I eagerly await the Buffet letter, which appeared on the Berkshire Hathaway Web site on Saturday. In the old days, it was distributed by snail mail.

His references to pal Charlie Munger and how they navigate business challenges reminds me of how my father and his brother, my uncle Jack, strategized about their challenges running tiny retail stores in small Illinois towns. Of course, the difference comes in the number of zeros behind Warren and Charlie’s portfolio versus that of Jack and Jim’s.

Each year, I search for any insight the Big Guy at Berkshire may be have on our industry: real estate.

In his reference to the MidAmerican utility holdings, Buffet mentions Home Services, the “second largest real estate broker in America.” This is a “cyclical business but one which we are very enthusiastic,” he writes. “We have an exceptional manager, Ron Peltier, who through both his acquisition and operational skills, is building a brokerage powerhouse.”

I agree.

(Find out for yourself at the next Inman News audio conference when Ron is interviewed, exclusively for Inman News members on March 18. Click here).

The report also says Home Services will make more real estate acquisitions beyond the current six brokerages, which has 6,346 agents in six states. Last year, acquisitions contributed to a 23 percent growth rate at Home Services.

Along with opinions about taxes, corporate governance and CEO compensation, Buffet tells a story of trust and respect about Wal-Mart. When Berkshire acquired McClane Company from Wal-Mart, Buffet describes his two-hour meeting with Wal-Mart CEO Tom Schoewe. That was enough to wrap up the deal and without due diligence, it closed in 29 days.

“We knew everything would be exactly as Wal-Mart said it would be and it was,” wrote Buffet, who said the mega-retailers deserve to be on top of Forbes Magazine‘s Most Admired List of American companies.

On another real estate-related matter, Buffet describes problems in the manufactured housing sector in which Berkshire Hathaway owns Clayton Homes and Oakwood, which it recently described.

“The manufactured housing industry is awash in problems,” including high delinquencies and a collapse of its retail network. He says the problems are the upfront sales fees and sideways loans, which are “destined to default.”

The funniest part of the report is the discussion of the upcoming May meeting of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in Omaha. Companies in the portfolio exhibit and local restaurants offer discounts to shareholders for the event.

Sounding like a family reunion, the affair is dubbed “The Woodstock for Capitalists.”


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