Buffett Partnership Letters: 1959 & 1960

by on April 28, 2012  •  In Warren Buffett - Partnership Letters

This post is a continuation in a series on portfolio management and the Buffett Partnership Letters. Please refer to the initial post in this series for more details.


“My continual objective in managing partnership funds is to achieve a long-term performance record superior to that of the Industrial Average…Unless we do achieve this superior performance there is no reason for existence of the partnerships.”

The term “benchmark” is often associated with relative performance. I believe that “benchmark” has a much wider definition and purpose – as a goal of sorts for each portfolio manager.

Early on, Buffett recognized the importance of identifying a benchmark and set investor expectations accordingly. Without a proper benchmark and reasonable investor expectations, there exists greater risk for potential discord and misunderstanding, as well as the risk of a portfolio manager shooting the proverbial arrow and painting the bull’s eye around where the arrow lands.

Separate Accounts, Time Management

“…the family is growing. There has been no partnership which has had a consistently superior or inferior record compared to our group average, but there has been some variance each year despite my efforts to keep all partnerships invested in the same securities and in about the same proportions. This variation, of course, could be eliminated by combining the present partnerships into one large partnership. Such a move would also eliminate much detail and a moderate amount of expense…Frankly, I am hopeful in doing something along this line in the next few years…”

Buffett grappled with the issue of having separate accounts versus a single pooled vehicle. A pooled vehicle would have eliminated investor questions about discrepancies in partnership returns. It also would have saved a great deal of time and effort in dealing with the operational details of having to oversee multiple accounts vs. the ease of managing one single vehicle. Given the scarcity of time each day, the topic of effective time management is one that will continue to receive coverage in future posts at PM Jar.


“Last year mention was made of an investment which accounted for a very high and unusual proportion (35%) of our net assets along with the comment that I had some hope this investment would be concluded in 1960…Sanborn Map Co. is engaged in the publication and continues revision of extremely detailed maps of all cities in the United States…”

Today, Buffett no longer discusses individual ideas or the rationale behind his thesis and analysis. This was not the case back in the Partnership days. In the 1960 Letter, there is a very detailed account of an activist position he took in Sanborn Map Co. which accounted for ~35% of the NAV of the partnerships and involved contentious negotiations with the Board of Directors.

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