I picked up this little book, Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements – the search for the company with durable competitive advantage (Scribner: New York, 2008), thinking that I might learn something valuable about the current economic mess and as a possible guide to shaping personal investment decisions. However, from the small investor perspective of building long-term wealth the strategy is summed up in the tag line: “durable competitive advantage”. ((My attention for that purpose has shifted to another more compelling analysis – John Bogle’s The Little Book of Common Sense Investing (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2007) ))
But, to return to the Buffett book, I am struck by another use of this book. That is as guide to the basics of how to read and interpret the important elements of a company’s financial statements. The book covers The Income Statement, The Balance Sheet, and The Cash Flow Statement. If you feel uncomfortable or completely ignorant of these three financial documents, this book might just do the trick.
While you are learning about Warren Buffett’s approach to durable competitive advantage, you will be lead through a tour of these three statements. This is a very literal line by line march. For instance, thirteen chapters, averaging three pages each, cover all of the common elements of the income statement. With the example statement always in sight it is easy to follow the calculations to see what Gross Margin or Earning per Share mean. If you find Depreciation a mystery, this is covered too. In this era of excessive leverage, the book carries along a discussion of the impact of debt on the performance of a company.
So, pick up this book at your local library or buy it. You will understand more about the how and why of Warren Buffett’s strategies and learn to understand financial statements. Then, get out your own statements and march through with this book as a guide.