Poor Charlie’s Almanack

“Acquire worldly wisdom and adjust your behavior accordingly. If your new behavior gives you a little temporary unpopularity with your peer group… then to hell with them.”


Foreword by Warren E. Buffett

Ben Franklin – Poor Richard’s Almanack, from 1733-1758
Ben, in his will, created two small philanthropic funds that were designed to teach the magic of compound interest.
Ben’s “Advice on the Choice of a Mistress” essay

As for myself, I’d like to offer some “Advice on the Choice of a Partner.” Pay attention.
Look first for someone both smarter and wiser than you are. After locating him (or her), ask him not to flaunt his superiority so that you may enjoy acclaim for the many accomplishments that sprang from his thoughts and advice. Seek a partner who will never second-guess you nor sulk when you make expensive mistakes. Look also for a generous soul who will put up his own money and work for peanuts. Finally, join with someone who will constantly add to the fun as you travel a long road together. [he means Charlie]

Rebuttal by Charles T. Munger

It’s hard to believe that he’s getting better with each passing year. It won’t go on forever, but Warren is actually improving. It’s remarkable: Most men in their seventies are not improving, but Warren is.

Introduction by Peter D. Kaufman

He Regales his audience with humorous anecdotes and poignant tales, rather than with a blizzard of facts and figures. He well knows, and wisely exploits, the traditional role of the storyteller as purveyor of complex and detailed information. As a result, his lessons hang together in a coherent “latticework” of knowledge, available for recall and use when needed.
Charlie once said, “I wanted to get rich so I could be independent, like Lord John Maynard Keynes.” Independence is the end that wealth serves for Charlie, not the other way around.
inspired by Cicero’s Discourse of Old Age.
A work about the style and layout of the book: Charlie is enormously curious about nearly everything he bumps into in life.

I’ve gotten paid a lot over the years for reading through the newspapers. Awaiting luncheon on the Thames, 1996.

Chapter One:

  • A Portrait of Charles T. Munger

I sometimes tell my friends, ‘I’m doing the best I can. But, I’ve never grown old before. I’m doing it for the first time. And I’m not sure that I’ll do it right.’

Charles Thomas Munger was born on January 1,1924, in America’s heartland, Omaha, Nebraska.

he never forgot the sound principles caught by his grandfather: to concentrate on the task immediately in front of him and to control spending.

When he stopped in 1964, he had a nest egg of $1.4 million from real estate projects alone.

Charlie Munger has spent a professional lifetime studying lives that have worked well and others that have glitches or have experienced failures’

“You don’t need to take the last dollar” and “Choose clients as your would friends.”

Charlie built the Wheeler, Munger partnership from 1962 through 1975. It did exceptionally well for the first eleven years, compounding at 28.3 percent gross (20.0 percent net) vs. 6.7 percent for the Dow, without a single down year. But the partnership was hit hard in the vicious bear market of 1973 and 1974 when it fell31.9 percent and 31.5 percent in back-to-back years, as the partnership’s largest holdings, Blue Chip Stamps and New America Fund, fell sharply. This decline was despite, as Charlie puts it, “having its major investments virtually sure of eventually being saleable at prices higher than the quote d market prices.” But the partnership rebounded strongly in 1975, rising73.2 percent, bringing the overall record over fourteen years to 19.8 percent (13.7 percent net) compounded annual returns vs. 5.0 percent for the Dow.
After this difficult experience, Charlie followed Warren in concluding that he no longer wanted to manage funds directly for investors (Warren had closed his own partnerships in 1969).

Charlie Munger Investment Partnership Results

For the most part, they have held their major investments for the long term — in fact, they still own almost every business they’ve ever acquired outright.

“A partner, ideally, is capable of working alone. You can be a dominant partner, subordinate partner, or an always collaborative equal partner. I have done all three.
People couldn’t believe that I suddenly made myself a subordinate partner to Warren, but there are some people that it is okay to be a subordinate partner to. I didn’t have the kind of ego that prevented it. There are always people who will be better at something than you are. You have to learn to be a follower before you become a leader. People should learn to play all roles.”

Charlie said, “I am a biography nut myself. And I think when you’re trying to teach the great concepts that work, it helps to tie them into the lives and personalities of the people who developed them. I think you learn economics better if you make Adam Smith your friend. That sounds funny, making friends among ‘the eminent dead,’but if you go through life making friends with the eminent dead who had the right ideas, I think it will work better for you in life and work better in education. It’s way better than just giving the basic concepts.”

As I continued through Cicero’s pages, I found much more material celebrating my way of life. As the years have passed, I have encountered more and more criticism from being lost in my own thoughts when others were talking to me. This behavior, too, is deemed a virtue by Cicero as he demonstrates in his appraisal of the astronomer Gallus and others like him: “How often did the rising sun surprise him, fixed on a calculation he began overnight … and how many others we have known in their old age [so] delighting themselves in their studies … ingenious and commendable?”

And Cicero’s words also increased my personal satisfaction by supporting my long-standing rejection of a conventional point of view.

Cicero, learned man that he was, believed in self-improvement so long as breath lasts.

To Cicero it is unworthy that an old man would work to improve only what he would live to enjoy. For him the only life worth living is dedicated in substantial part to good outcomes one cannot possibly survive to see.

  • Praising Old Age: Munger’s Reflections on Aging

Cicero, on a Life well Spent (2005, Levenger Press) – Franklin’s 1744 translation

Franklin on Aging: “Life’s Tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late. When you’re finished changing you’re finished.”

M. T. Cirero’s Cato Major, or His discourse of OLD-AGE

“The best Armour of Old Age is a well-spent life preceding it.”

  • Remembering: The Children on Charlie

“Our experience tends to confirm a long-held notion that being prepared, on a few occasions in a lifetime, to act promptly in scale, in doing some simple and logical thing, will often dramatically improve the financial results of that lifetime.

“A few major opportunities, clearly recognizable as such, will usually come to one who continuously searches and waits, with a curious mind that loves diagnosis involving multiple variables.

“And then all that is required is a willingness to bet heavily when the odds are extremely favorable, using resources available as a result of prudence and patience in the past.”

Chapter Two:

  • The Munger Approach to Life: Learning, and Decision Making

Take a simple idea and take it seriously.” — Munger

Much of Franklin’s success was due to the essential nature of the man-most especially his appetite for hard work but also his insatiable curiosity and patient demeanor.

Just as animals flourish in niches, people who specialize in some narrow niche can do very well. … “In business we often find that the winning system goes almost ridiculously far in maximizing and/or minimizing one or a few variables-like the discount warehouses of Costco.”

“You must know the big ideas in the big disciplines and use them routinely-all of them, not just a few. … You know the old saying: ‘To the man with a hammer, the world looks like a nail.’ This is a dumb way of handling problems.”

Instead of making a superficial stand-alone assessment of a company’s financial information, Charlie conducts a comprehensive analysis of both the internal workings of the investment candidate as well as the larger, integrated “ecosystem” in which it operates.

What you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And, with that system, things gradually get to fit together in a way that enhances cognition.

“Things usually die after going to the ‘Too-Hard’ pile.” [恐慌区]

Charlie has developed an unusual additional attribute-a willingness, even an eagerness, to identify and acknowledge his own mistakes and learn from them. As he once said, “If Berkshire has made a modest progress, a good deal of it is because Warren and I are very good at destroying our own best-loved ideas. Any year that you don’t destroy one of your best-loved ideas is probably a wasted year.”

if each wants to overuse his own models and underuse the important models in other disciplines, you can correct that folly yourself.”

Legendary fixed income expert Bill Gross (PIMCO) once said: “The book that rests on my library coffee table is not Peter Lynch’s Beating the Street or even my own, but several books by historian Paul Johnson on the makings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

“There is no better teacher than history in determining the future…. There are answers worth billions of dollars in a $30 history book.”

Charlie counts preparation, patience, discipline, and objectivity among his most fundamental guiding principles. He will not deviate from these principles, regardless of group dynamics, emotional itches, or popular wisdom

An Acceptance for Reality — “I’m afraid that’s the way it is. If there are twenty factors and they interact some, you’ll just have to learn to handle it-because that’s the way the world is. But you wont find it that hard if you go at it Darwin-like, step by step with curious persistence. You’ll be amazed at how good you can get.” ___ Munger

“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do. when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.” -Thomas Henry Huxley,  Darwin’s self-appointed advocate or “bulldog”

So when Charlie likes a business, he makes a very large bet and typically holds the position for a long period (see Warren Buffett’s analysis of the original 1962-1975 Munger partnership on page 21). Charlie calls it “sit on your ass investing” and cites its benefits: “You’re paying less to brokers, you’re listening to less nonsense, and if it works, the tax system gives you an extra one, two, or three percentage points per annum.” In his view, a portfolio of three companies is plenty of diversification.

It takes character to sit there with all that cash and do nothing. I didn’t get to where I am by going after mediocre opportunities.” -Munger

Ted Williams is the only baseball player who had a .400 single-season hitting record in the last seven decades. In the Science of Hitting he explained his technique. He divided the strike zone into seventy-seven cells, each representing the size of a baseball. He would insist on swinging only at balls in his ‘best’ cells, even at the risk of striking out, because reaching for the ‘worst’ spots would seriously reduce his chances of success. As a securities investor, you can watch all sorts of business propositions in the form of security prices thrown at you all the time. For the
most part, you don’t have to do a thing other than be amused. Once in a while, you will find a ‘fat pitch’ that is slow, straight, and right in the middle of your sweet spot. Then you swing hard.
— Li Lu of LL Investment Partners

Charlie is simply content to trust his own judgment even when it runs counter to the wisdom of the herd. This “lone-wolf’ aspect of Charlie’s temperament is a rarely appreciated reason why he consistently outperforms the larger investment community.

Patience: The Art of “Waiting Without Tiring of Waiting”

As Jesse Livermore said, ‘The big money is not in the buying and selling…but in the waiting.”‘

Charlie generally focuses first on what to avoid-that is, on what NOT to do-before he considers the affirmative steps he will take in a given situation. “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there” is one of his favorite quips. In business as in life, Charlie gains enormous advantage by summarily eliminating the unpromising portions of “the chess board,” freeing his time and attention for the more productive regions.

Mr. Market
“In the short run, the market is a voting machine. But in the long run, it is a weighing machine.”

“Investment is most successful when it is most businesslike.”
“Investors should purchase stocks like they purchase groceries-not like they purchase perfume.”
-Ben Graham

“It’s not the bad ideas that do you in, it’s the good ideas. And you may say, ‘That can’t be so. That’s paradoxical.’ What he [Graham] meant was that if a thing is a bad idea, it’s hard to overdo. But where there is a good idea with a core of essential and important truth, you can’t ignore it. And then it’s so easy to overdo it. So the good ideas are a wonderful way to suffer terribly if you overdo them.” -Munger

he considers the psychological factors of human misjudgment some of the most important mental models that can be applied to an investment opportunity: ” Personally, I’ve gotten so that I now use a kind of two-track annlysis. First, what are the factors that really govern the interests involved, rationally considered? And second, what are the subconscious influences where the brain at a subconscious level is automatically forming conclusions in various ways…”

“Quickly Eliminate the Big Universe of What Not to do, Follow Up with a Fluent, Multidisciplinary Attack on What Remains, Then Act Decisively When, and Only When, the Right Circumstances Appear.”

“We’re emphasizing the knowable by predicting how certain people and companies will swim against the current. We’re not predicting the fluctuation in the current.”

To us, investing is the equivalent of going out and betting against the pari-mutuel system. We look for a horse with one chance in two of winning and which pays you three to one, You’re looking for a mispriced gamble. That’s what investing is. And you have to know enough to know whether the gamble is mispriced. That’s value investing.

Munger’s Investment Evaluation Process

The number one idea is to view a stock as an ownership of the business and to judge the staying quality of the business in terms of its competitive advantage. Look for more value in terms of discounted future cash-fow than you are paying for. Move only when you have an advantage. It’s very basic. You have to understand the odds and have the discipline to bet only when the odds are in your favor. We just keep our heads down and handle the headwinds and tailwinds as best we can, and take the result after a period of years.

Thomas Watson Sr., the founder of IBM: “I’m no genius. I’m smart in spots, and I stay around those spots.”

To stay within these circles, he first applies a basic, overall screen, designed to limit his investment field to only “simple, understandable candidates.” As he says, “We have three baskets for investing: yes, no, and too tough to understand.”

If we have a strength, it is in recognizing when we are operating well within our circle of competence and when we are approaching the perimeter.” — Warren Buffett

If you have competence, you pretty much know its boundaries already. To ask the question [of whether you are past the boundary] is to answer it.” — Munger

He takes into account all relevant aspects, both internal and external to the company and its industry even if they are difficult to identify, measure, or reduce to numbers. His thoroughness, however, does not cause him to forget his overall “ecosystem” theme: Sometimes the maximization or minimization of a single factor (notably specialization, as he likes to point out regarding Costco’s discount warehouses) can make that single factor disproportionately important.

Charlie treats financial reports and their underlying accounting with a Midwestern dose of skepticism. At best, they are merely the beginning of a proper calculation of intrinsic valuation, not the end. The list of additional factors he examines is seemingly endless and includes such things as the current and prospective regulatory climate; state of labor, supplier, and customer relations; potential impact of changes in technology; competitive strengths and vulnerabilities; pricing power; scalability; environmental issues; and, notably, the presence of hidden exposures (Charlie knows that there is no such thing as a riskless investment candidate; he’s searching for those with few risks that are easily understandable). He recasts all financial statement figures to fit his own view of reality, including the actual free or “owners” cash being produced, inventory and other working capital assets, fixed assets, and such frequently overstated intangible assets as goodwill.

Warren and Charlie on “Moats”

Buffett: “So we think in terms of that moat and the ability to keep its width and its impossibility of being crossed as the primary criterion of a great business. And we tell our managers we want the moat widened every year. That doesn’t necessarily mean the profit will be more this year than it was last year because it won’t be sometimes. However, if the moat is widened every year, the business will do very well. When we see a moat that’s tenuous in any way-it’s just too risky. We don’t know how to evaluate that. And, therefore, we leave it alone. We think that all of our businesses-or virtually all of our businesses-have pretty darned good moats. And we think the managers are widening them. Charlie?”
He especially assesses a company’s management well beyond conventional number crunching-in particular, the degree to which they are “able, trustworthy, and owner-oriented.” For example, how do they deploy cash? Do they allocate it intelligently on behalf of the owners, or do they overcompensate themselves, or pursue ego-oriented growth for growth’s sake?

Above all, he attempts to assess and understand competitive advantage in every respect-products, markets, trademarks, employees, distribution channels, societal trends, and so on-and the durability of that advantage. Charlie refers to a company’s competitive advantage as its “moat”: the virtual physical barrier it presents against incursions. Superior companies have deep moats that are continuously widened to provide enduring protection. In this vein, Charlie carefully considers “competitive destruction” forces that, over the long term, lay siege to most companies. Munger and Buffitt are laser-focused on this issue : Over their long business careers they have learned, sometimes painfully, that few businesses survive over multiple generations. Accordingly, they strive to identify and buy only those businesses with a good chance of beating these tough odds.

“Never fool yourself, and remember that you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard P. Feynman

a great business at a fair price is superior to a fair business at a great price

Margin of Safety

“The margin of safety is always dependent on the price paid. It will be large at one price, small at some other price, and nonexistent at some higher price.” -Benjamirr Graham

the “Big Idea Model” of redundancy from engineering. Bridges are designed with backup systems and extra capacity to prevent failures – so too should investing strategies.

The evaluation, finally, becomes not so much mathematical as philosophical. Ultimately “a feel” emerges, a function of both the analysis itself and Charlie’s lifetime of accumulated experience and skill in recognizing patterns.

The checklist includes such items as: What are current price, volume, and trading considerations? What disclosure timing or other sensitivities exist? Do contingent exit strategies exist? Are better uses of capital currently or potentially available? Is sufficient liquid capital currently on hand or must it be borrowed? What is the opportunity cost of that capital? And so on.

Charlie’s exhaustive screening process requires considerable self-discipline and results in long periods of apparent “inactivity.” But as Charlie says, “Hard work is an essential element in tracking down and perfecting a strategy or in executing it.” For Charlie and Warren, the hard work is continuous, whether it results in current investing activity or not-and usually it does not. This habit of committing far more time to learning and thinking than to doing is no accident.

Fluency and Perspective
You need to have a passionate interest in why things are happening. That cast of mind, kept over long periods, gradually improves your ability to focus on reality.
“The deep structure of the human mind requires that the way to full-scope competency of virtually any kind is learn it all to fluency, like it or not.” -Munger
“I notice that when all a man’s information is confined to the field in which he is working, the work is never as good as it ought to be. A man has to get perspective, and he can get it from books or from people-preferably from both.” -Harvey Firestone

“The right way to think is the way Zeckhauser plays bridge. It’s just that simple.”

Most players gain pleasure from feeling accepted or belonging to the group. The good player, however, gains pleasure from his ability to cope with the realities of the game. – John Finn

“In investing, just as in baseball, to put runs on the scoreboard, one must watch the playing field, not the scoreboard.” -Warren Buffett

Okay, it’s a good company. But is the price low enough? Is the management made up of people Munger and Buffett are comfortable with? If it is cheap enough to buy, is it cheap for the wrong reason or the right reason? What’s the flip side? What can go wrong that I haven’t seen?

“Competitive Destruction”
“I have a clipping from the 1911 Buffalo Evening News that lists the fifty most important stocks then actively traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Today only one, General Electric, remains in business as a large, independent company. That’s how powerful the forces of competitive destruction are. Over the very long term, history shows that the chances of any business surviving in a manner agreeable to a company’s owners are slim at best.
“It gets extra tough when a fanatical small competitor-like a Rose Blumkin, or a Les Schwab, or a Sam Walton- sets their sights on your particular marketplace. How do you compete against a true fanatic? You can only try to build the best possible moat and continuously attempt to widen it.”

The Limitations of Formulas [AI investing?]
People always want a formula-but it doesn’t work that way. You have to estimate total cash generated from now to eternity, and discount it back to today. Yardsticks such as P/Es are not enough by themselves.        -Butffett
You need a different checklist and different mental models for different companies. I can never make it easy by saying, ‘Here are three things.’ You have to derive it yourself to ingrain it in your head for the rest of your life.” – Munger

An Investing Principles Checklist

“No wise pilot, no matter how great his talent and experience, fails to use his checklist.”

“If you took our top fifteen decisions out, we’d have a pretty average record. It wasn’t hyperactivity but a hell of a lot of patience. You stuck to your principles and when opportunities came along, you pounced on them with vigor.”
“There are worse situations than drowning in cash and sitting, sitting, sitting.” – Munger

  • Risk-All investment evaluations should begin by measuring risk, especially reputational
    • Incorporate an appropriate margin of safety
    • Avoid dealing with people of questionable characrer
    • Insist upon proper compensation for risk assumed
    • Always beware of inflation and interest rate exposures
    • Avoid big mistakes; shun permanent capital loss
  • Independence-“Only in fairy tales are emperors told they are naked”
    • Objectivity and rationality require independence of thought
    • Remember that just because other people agree or disagree with you doesn’t make you right or wrong-the only thing that matters is the correctness of your analysis and judgment
    • Mimicking the herd invites regression to the mean
  • Preparation-“The only way to win is to work, work, work, work, and hope to have a few insights”
    • Develop into a lifelong self-learner through voracious reading; cultivate curiosity and strive to become a little wiser every day
    • More important than the will to win is the will to prepare
    • Develop fluency in mental models from the major academic disciplines
    • If you want to get smart, the question you have to keep asking is “why, why, why?”
  • Intellectual humility-Acknowledging what you don’t know is the dawning of wisdom
    • Stay within a well-defined circle of competence
    • Identify and reconcile disconfirming evidence
    • Resist the craving for false precision, false certainties, etc.
    • Above all, never fool yourself, and remember that you are the easiest person to fool
  • Analytic rigor –  Use of the scientific method and effective checklists minimizes errors and omissions
    • Determine the value apart from price; progress apart from activity; wealth apart from size
    • It is better to remember the obvious than to grasp the esoteric
    • Be a business analyst, not a market, macroeconomic, or security analyst
    • Consider totality of risk and effect; look always at the potential second order and higher level impacts
    • Think forwards and backwards– Invert, always invert.
  • Allocation-Proper allocation of capital is an investor’s number one job
    • Remember that highest and best use is always measured by the next best use (opportunity cost)
    • Good ideas are rare-when the odds are greatly in your favor, bet (allocate) heavily
    • Don’t “fall in love” with an investment-be situation-dependent and opportunity-driven
  • Patience-Resist the natural human bias to act
    • “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world” (Einstein); never interrupt it unnecessarily
    • Avoid unnecessary transactional taxes and frictional costs; never take action for its own sake
    • Be alert for the arrival of luck
    • Enjoy the process along with the proceeds, because the process is where you live
  • Decisiveness-When proper circumstances present themselves, act with decisiveness and conviction
    • Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful
    • Opportunity doesn’t come often, so seize it when it does
    • Opportunity meeting the prepared mind: that’s the game
  • Change-Live with change and accept unremovable complexity
    • Recognize and adapt to the true nature of the world around you; don’t expect it to adapt to you
    • Continually challenge and willingly amend your “best-loved ideas”
    • Recognize reality even when you don’t like it-especially when you don’t like it
  • Focus-Keep things simple and remember what you set out to do
    • Remember that reputation and integrity are your most valuable assets-and can be lost in a heartbeat
    • Guard against the effects of hubris and boredom
    • Don’t overlook the obvious by drowning in minutiae
    • Be careful to exclude unneeded information or slop: “A small leak can sink a great ship”
    • Face your big troubles; don’t sweep them under the rug

Charlie’s superior performance… It comes from what he calls his “constant search for better methods of thought,” a willingness to “prepay” through rigorous preparation, and from the extraordinary outcomes of his multidisciplinary research model. In the end, it comes down to Charlie’s most basic guiding principles, his fundamental philosophy of life: Preparation. Discipline. Patience. Decisiveness.

So the game is to keep learning, and I don’t think people are going to keep learning who don’t like the learning process.”

If you buy something because it’s undervalued, then you have to think about selling it when it approaches your calculation of its intrinsic value. That’s hard. But, if you can buy a few, great companies, then you can sit on your ass. That’s a good thing.

Honesty Is the Best Policy

As Charlie once said, “Doing the right thing can pay big dividends both personally and professionally.”

“I think track records are very important, If you start early trying to have a perfect one in some simple thing like honesty, you’re well on your way to success in this world.”-Charlie T. Manger

“Taking advantage of a cheap stock price on the stock exchange is one thing, but taking advantage of partners or old ladies is something else-something Charlie just doesn’t do.”

“Ability will get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” – Lincoln
“Trickery and treachery are the practices of fools that have not the wits enough to be honest.” – Franklin
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember your lies.” – Louis Vincenti

We think there should be a huge area between what you’re willing to do and what you can do without significant risk of suffering criminal penalty or causing losses. We believe you shouldn’t go anywhere near that line. You ought to have an internal compass. So there should be all kinds of things you won’t do even though they’re perfectly legal. That’s the way we try to operate.

“l don’t think we deserve a lot of credit for that because we early understood that we’d make more money that way. And since we understood it so well, I’m not sure that we’re entitled to credit for such morality as we have.

Of course, it is hard to know your own motivations. … Ben Franklin was right for us. He didn’t say honesty was the best morals, he said it was the best policy.”


Chapter Three:

  • Mungerisms: Charlie Unscripted (Highlights from recent Berkshire Hathaway and Wesco Financial annual meetings)

Chapter Four: Eleven Talks

  1. Harvard school Commencement Speech.
  2. A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom
  3. A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom Revisited
  4. Practical Thought About Practical Thought?
  5. Harvard Law School Fiftieth Reunion Address
  6. Investment Practices of Leading Charitable Foundations…322
  7. Philanthropy Roundtable ………………..340
  8. The Great Financial Scandal of 2003 ……………….356
  9. Academic Economics…………… …………374
  10. USC Gould School of Law Commencement Address…… ……420
  11. The Psychology of Human Misjudgment……..40


I. Recommended Reading Material…. ………… 499
II. Articles, Editorials, and Opinion Pieces …..502

Index …………….522