Last week, the legendary Warren Buffett went on CNBC and claimed with “almost certainty” that all cryptocurrencies were heading for the pooper.
And people always listen to Buffett, because his track record speaks for itself.
Or does it?
I do love Buffett, and he was a big role model for me when I started my investing career as a teenager. But I want you to flash your memory back to when Michael Jordan flunked out of the 3-point contest in almost embarrassing fashion. How did that happen?
It’s because most gurus – Jordan, Buffett – always have their limits.
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Let’s rewind on Warren Buffett a little. Buffett started his investment partnership in 1956. From 1956 to 1998, his fortune grew from around $170,000 to $29.4 billion, a cool 30ish% return per year. Over a time span that long (40+ years), an ROI that consistently high is unheard of.
But here’s where it gets interesting. In 1998, the internet had arrived, and tech companies were booming. It was one of the biggest growth spurts the stock market had seen (and one of the biggest crashes). Some of the biggest companies in the world were created during this time.
Buffett stayed largely inactive during these tech years, stating he “never invests in things he doesn’t understand”, and he didn’t understand the internet. But what interests me is, he never tried to understand the internet. Even as it became a daily part of our lives, he was still wasn’t interested. Just look at the Berkshire Hathaway website today. Buffett fans think it’s cute. In 2018, I think it’s silly.
However, not investing in things you don’t understand isn’t silly. It’s smart. You might have heard, Buffett passed on the Amazon IPO in 1997, and regrets it today. But I understand that. Nobody really understood the internet in 1997, myself included.
But the internet became a household item pretty quickly. Google IPO’d in 2004, seven years later. By then, everyone knew what Google was. Everyone was using the internet. Buffett still passed.
“I don’t understand the internet,” he said.
By 2012, another eight years on, everybody had a Facebook account. Everybody was using it daily. Facebook finally did an IPO that year. Buffett was even working closely with Zuckerberg as an advisor – and therefore could’ve known everything you could possibly want to know about Facebook – but he passed on that IPO too.
“I don’t understand the internet,” he said.
Thankfully, he did finally throw a chunk of cash on Apple, which has turned out to be one of his best investments to date.
But where did this “not understanding the internet” leave him? Did he come out on top?
We’ll take that $81.5 billion, and we’ll add on the other $32 billion that he’s given away to charity, just because he’s awesome. Assuming that gives us a current projected net worth of$113 billion, since the 1998 tech boom Buffett has made an annualised gain of 6.9% per annum. My maths might be a little off, and we’re oversimplifying somewhat, but I think I’m in the ballpark.
Not to take anything away from ol’ Warren – he’s still the king ding-a-ling of investing and I always have respect for his opinions. But don’t you think, a man with $30 billion of capital, would have come out of the biggest technology boom in history better than 7% per annum? Even I’m doing better than 7% per annum since I bought my first share 15 years ago.
Of course, if I was already worth $29.4 billion, then I probably wouldn’t have bothered doing much work either. I would have stashed 90% of my capital in safe investments and lived my happy billionaire life. 7% p.a. would have been perfectly fine.
But you can’t do that. Neither can I.
Even more telling is what happened after the tech boom. While Warren Buffett spent 60+ years amassing his $80 billion dollar fortune, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg caught up to him in less than ten. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has already passed Buffett and claimed the crown of richest man alive. Larry Paige and Sergey Brin – the Google boys – are already in the $50 billion range, after founding Google early in 1998 – just 20 years ago. Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon – all these companies are now worth significantly more than Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and are among the biggest and most influential companies in history. And they were all companies Buffett passed on, because he didn’t want to understand the internet.
Buffett spent over forty years earning his first billion. Many tech tycoons did it in less than ten. The crypto geeks will do it in less than five. In fact, they already have.
What am I trying to say here?
I’m saying when it comes to investing today, you’re going to want to stretch your ear a lot further than Warren Buffett.
If Buffett had came out and said “I’ve read absolutely everything there is to know about blockchain technology and cryptocurrency, I’ve talked to all my advisors, all my partners, read all the books, talked to all the smartest people in the room, and my advice is to stay away” you can bet I wouldn’t put a single dollar in the crypto market.
But that’s not what he said. He just said the same thing he’s been saying since 1998:
“I know absolutely nothing about the internet and I don’t like it” and he’s saying the same thing about cryptocurrency today.
Let’s be honest – that’s not really the advice you want to hear, even if it is from a man like Buffett. I like to read commentary from people who are experts, who know everything, who make you feel stupid because they’re so much smarter than you on the subject. That’s who I try to take my advice from, and so should you.
Sorry Buffett, I love you, but 7% p.a. just isn’t good enough for most of us.
The blockchain is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The world is changing. It’s happening quick. Read. Research. Don’t sit around because “you don’t understand the internet”. Learn to understand it. Make an educated decision.
We’re in the dot com boom again, only this time, it’s 100x wilder.
Note: I am not a financial advisor. This is not financial advice. Investing always carries risk. Always do your own research before investing. This article contains affiliate links.