In his 1957 Partnership Letter, Warren Buffett explained how he made money from ‘work-out’ investments. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
The market decline has created greater opportunity among undervalued situations so that, generally, our portfolio is heavier in undervalued situations relative to work-outs than it was last year.
Perhaps an explanation of the term “work-out” is in order. A work-out is an investment which is dependent on a specific corporate action for its profit rather than a general advance in the price of the stock as in the case of undervalued situations.
Work-outs come about through: sales, mergers, liquidations, tenders, etc. In each case, the risk is that something will upset the applecart and cause the abandonment of the planned action, not that the economic picture will deteriorate and stocks decline generally. At the end of 1956, we had a ratio of about 70-30 between general issues and work-outs. Now it is about 85-15.
During the past year we have taken positions in two situations which have reached a size where we may expect to take some part in corporate decisions. One of these positions accounts for between 10% and 20% of the portfolio of the various partnerships and the other accounts for about 5%.
Both of these will probably take in the neighborhood of three to five years of work but they presently appear to have potential for a high average annual rate of return with a minimum of risk.
While not in the classification of work-outs, they have very little dependence on the general action of the stock market. Should the general market have a substantial rise, of course, I would expect this section of our portfolio to lag behind the action of the market.
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