Your Finance: Do as Buffett would do

Berkshire Hathaway chief executive Warren Buffett told investors

Berkshire Hathaway chief executive Warren Buffett told investors in a note that he favors buying back shares at a higher price under specific conditions, signaling that he views Berkshire Hathaway shares as undervalued. (June 5, 2012) (Credit: AP)

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For as long as I can remember, the investment maxim that most evokes a mix of adulation and performance anxiety is "Invest like Warren Buffett." How can mere mortals emulate an investing deity?

In truth, most of us will never come close to "the Sage of Omaha." He's done all the things a stellar investor should do: He buys when there's blood in the street, finds solid companies at great prices and keeps them "forever."

Lacking Buffett's phenomenal verve and mettle, though, most of us won't do this. But that doesn't mean we're doomed to failure.

Fortunately, the multibillionaire chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has been generous with his wisdom, and two recent books published in November compile and analyze it elegantly: "Tap Dancing to Work" by Carol Loomis, a longtime Fortune writer and Buffett friend and "Think, Act and Invest Like Warren Buffett" by Larry Swedroe, principal and director of research for Buckingham Asset Management, LLC.

What key advice resonates most?

Stick with index funds. Although you probably won't get the returns of Berkshire Hathaway with index funds, you can still get pretty close to market returns without having to be an oracle yourself.

"If individuals 'aren't going to be an active investor -- and very few should try to do that -- then they should just stay with index funds. Any low-cost index fund,' " Loomis quotes Buffett as advising. "And they should buy it over time. They're not going to pick the right place and time."

Don't play Buffett's game. Although Buffett is often able to time his purchases brilliantly, chances are, you won't. In fact, research shows that most individual investors' records on timing the market successfully are dismal.

One of the most important Buffett shibboleths is acknowledging that you won't be able to predict the market. If you take his advice on index funds and stay the course, "the only way an investor can get killed is by high fees or by trying to outsmart the market," he said in 2008.

Think long-term. Buy durable enterprises that will produce profits for decades, not quarters. Buffett has bought into enterprises like BNSF Railway Co. and Coca-Cola that have been around for a long time and are not going away. They have good prospects not because of recent "rearview" quarterly earnings reports. When Buffett says he's buying "businesses," he's committed to managements that generate cash, profits and dividends decades into the future.