Warren Buffett: Aesop and birds in the bush

Audience: Second short question is why haven’t you written down your set of formulas or your strategies in written form so you can share it with everyone else?

Warren Buffett: Well I think I actually have written about that. If you read the annual reports over the recent years, in fact the most recent annual report I used what I’ve just been talking about, I used the illustration of Aesop. Because here Aesop was in 600 BC- smart man, wasn’t smart enough to know it was 600 BC though. Would have taken a little foresight. But Aesop, in between tortoises and hares, and all these other things he found time to write about birds. And he said, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Now that isn’t quite complete because the question is, how sure are you that there are two in the bush, and how long do you have to wait to get them out? Now, he probably knew that but he just didn’t have time because he had all these other parables to write and had to get on with it. But he was halfway there in 600 BC. That’s all there is to investing is, how many birds are in the bush, when are you going to get them out, and how sure are you?

Now if interest rates are 15 percent, roughly, you’ve got to get two birds out of the bush in five years to equal the bird in the hand. But if interest rates are 3 percent, and you can get two birds out in 20 years, it still makes sense to give up the bird in the hand, because it all gets back to discounting against an interest rate. The problem is often you don’t know not only how many birds are in the bush, but in the case of the internet companies there weren’t any birds in the bush. But they still take the bird that you give them if they’re in the hand.

But I actually have written about this sort of thing, and stealing heavily from Aesop who wrote it some 2600 years ago, but I’ve been behind on my reading. Yeah?

Source: Warren Buffett Speech to University of Georgia Students Part 1 (Archive 2001)

Money Chimp have made a really explicit formula here.