Even the survivors come away bleeding

Warren Buffett has never invested in new technology companies. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, he completely ignored the rise of the personal computer and the web (avoiding the first bubble), and he has rarely invested in rapidly growing industries. This might seem like a paradoxical stance from one of the greatest investors of all time, but if you look at the investable companies within rapidly growing markets, a pattern emerges: they are not healthy. They’re engaged in constant war–a fight to the death, in many cases–for control of the future of their industry in technology, brand, and mindshare.

In his 2009 Berkshire Hathaway annual letter, Buffett explained his philosophy regarding such industries:

Charlie and I avoid businesses whose futures we can’t evaluate, no matter how exciting their products may be. In the past, it required no brilliance for people to foresee the fabulous growth that awaited such industries as autos (in 1910), aircraft (in 1930) and television sets (in 1950). But the future then also included competitive dynamics that would decimate almost all of the companies entering those industries. Even the survivors tended to come away bleeding.

Just because Charlie and I can clearly see dramatic growth ahead for an industry does not mean we can judge what its profit margins and returns on capital will be as a host of competitors battle for supremacy. At Berkshire we will stick with businesses whose profit picture for decades to come seems reasonably predictable. Even then, we will make plenty of mistakes.

 
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