Rekenthaler Report: It's Hard to Be Like Buffett

While every fund manager yearns for Buffett results, “most don’t mimic his investment approach” writes Morningstar’s John Rekenthaler in his September report. Concentrated, low-turnover portfolios are “not for everybody,” he says, and even when managers try to follow in the Oracle’s footsteps the results are often “dismal”.

Rekenthaler says there are two dozen U.S. stock mutual funds that could be called Berkshire hopefuls based on their large-value or large-blend investment styles, fewer than 25 stock positions and annual turnover of less than 50%. But their collective results, he says, “stink,” citing three year returns of 7.74% to Berkshire’s 10.61%.

To explain the disparate results, Rekenthaler quotes John Hempton of Bronte Capital: “If you wish to be the next Warren Buffett, then you really need to act like Warren Buffett. And that means extreme patience.”

According to Rekenthaler, the Buffett approach doesn’t lend itself to the mutual fund format, as managers would need to invest in many ideas at once or hold mostly cash for many years while gradually building up stock positions. “The first would flunk the investment test,” he says, “and the second could not be marketed.” Also, Hempton says, investment managers “want to act. Standing pat when under duress feels unnatural and looks appalling to customers.”

As individual investors, however, Rekenthaler argues that aspiring to Buffett-esque investing shouldn’t be as difficult. “We do not need to justify our inactivity,” he writes. “We can take our time, resist the temptation to trade, and take action only when truly outstanding opportunities arise.”