If there’s one person that knows how to weather a financial storm well, it’s the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett.
So what’s his trick?
Trick No. 1 – Have Cash on Hand
Some people think it’s bad to have cash laying around, an “unproductive asset that acts as a drag on such markers as return on equity.”
But that’s not the case for Buffett.
“Cash, though, is to a business as oxygen is to an individual: never thought about when it is present, the only thing in mind when it is absent,” he says.
At the end of 2017, Berkshire Hathaway had $116 billion in cash. With that much money, he could buy any company within reach.
But he didn’t.
Even though his company’s role is to buyout companies and bring them under the tent, if you will, he didn’t buy much. And that’s because they were all overpriced.
Think about that.
One of the richest people in the world with company sitting on $116 billion in cash did nothing, but sit on it. He was protecting his company’s money by not spending it. What he was doing was protecting his money from a potential decline.
It doesn’t matter how appealing an asset may appear, if it’s also overvalued, it’s better to protect yourself by hoarding cash.
Trick No. 2 – Don’t Follow the Herd
In 2008, Buffett said “Beware the investment activity that produces applause; the great moves are usually greeted by yawns.”
Then in 2009, he said:
It’s been an ideal period for investors: A climate of fear is their best friend. Those who invest only when commentators are upbeat end up paying a heavy price for meaningless reassurance.
One of the key reasons that many investors underperform in the market is because they move in and out of assets at the wrong time. When an investor sees everyone else making money from rising markets, that’s when they tend to throw every spare dollar into their investments. Unfortunately, when that same investor sees a group of other investors selling, the investor sells, too.
In short, they get caught up in herd mentality.
A trader will often mimic the actions of a larger group so they don’t feel left out of a trend, or miss what the herd believes is a “can’t lose” trade.
The rationale is simple.
It’s unlikely that such a large group of people can be so wrong.
Here’s the perfect example.
In 2009, Kiplinger’s ran an article by Robert Frick, titled, “Don’t Trust the Crowd.”
Here’s what that article had to say:
What’s scary about the herd mentality is how insidiously it gets you to see things differently. In fact, a recent experiment showed that we may actually be hard-wired to believe what the crowd tells us. In the experiment, conducted at Emory University, participants were asked to look at an object (an assemblage of cubes) and then judge how it would look if it were rotated slightly.
But there was a twist: Other participants–who in reality were actors hired for the experiment–were instructed to give wrong answers in an attempt to sway the opinions of their fellow participants.
Sure enough, the real subjects, influenced by the actors, gave incorrect responses, despite what their own eyes told them. Brain scans found that participants didn’t just decide to go along with the crowd. Instead, the crowd’s opinion actually changed their perception of the problem. Participants “saw” the objects differently. The herd, it seems, alters our perception of reality.
What allows a Wall Street participant to think outside of the herd is the awareness of just how easily we are influenced, as also highlighted by that article. “Then you can concentrate on the smartest investing strategy: spreading your risk across many types of investments and periodically redistributing your money among them.”
Remember, “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one,” noted Charles Mackay in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
Granted, that was written in 1841.
But what he had to say about the mass mania and the behavior of the crowd remains relative to this day…
As reported by ETF HQ:
French sociologist Gustave Le Bon developed a theory called Contagion that assumes that crowds exert a hypnotic influence over their members. People find themselves in a situation where they are anonymous and can abandon personal responsibility. They get sucked up in the contagious emotions of the crowd and can be driven toward irrational, often violent action that most isolated individuals would not attempt. The main flaw in this theory is that crowd behavior is not necessarily irrational. The crowd is always intellectually inferior to the isolated individual, but that, from the point of view of feelings and of the acts these feelings provoke, the crowd may, according to circumstances, be better or worse than the individual. All depends on the nature of the suggestion to which the crowd is exposed.
Trick No. 3 – Be in a Strong Position to Capitalize
Buffett once said:
“Too-big-to-fail is not a fallback position at Berkshire. Instead, we will always arrange our affairs so that any requirements for cash we may conceivably have will be dwarfed by our own liquidity.”
Buffett went on to point out that during the financial crisis, Berkshire was a buyer when others were panicking.
He sells when others are greedy; and buys when others are fearful.
With cash on hand, Buffett has the financial flexibility to jump on opportunities that popped up. As the billionaire often points out, keeping some cash on hand allows you to take advantage of corrections without having to sell other investments.
In short, buy low, sell high in a crisis situation.