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Barel Karsan
Barel Karsan

Insight Into A Buffett Moat

February 29, 2012 | About:

Buffett's annual shareholder letter always makes for great reading, and 2011's edition, which came out a few days ago, was no exception. One thing that stood out for me this year was his discussion of one of Berkshire's expanding businesses; this discussion offers numerous lessons for investors looking to better understand "the moat" of this particular business.

Specifically, Buffett described the purchase of a 433-acre tract north of Dallas by subsidiary Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM):

"...[W]e will build what is almost certain to be the highest-volume home-furnishings store in the country...It will be several years before the Texas store is completed...Our new store, which will offer an unequalled variety of merchandise sold at prices that can’t be matched, will bring huge crowds from near and far. This drawing power and our extensive holdings of land at the site should enable us to attract a number of other major stores."

In just these few words, Buffett illustrated how NFM plans to generate a return on capital that is far above its cost of capital. Specifically, the store will benefit from:

1) Economies of scale

Following the model of the original store in Omaha, this store will be huge. As such, it can outspend other stores on advertising to drive sales, and still spend less on advertising per unit sold, because of its large volume. Inventory costs per unit are also reduced when scale economies are achieved, and the high sales may also result in volume discounts from suppliers. This scale allows the store to offer the lowest prices, further supporting the scale advantages of the store in a virtuous cycle.

2) No Nearby Competitors

NFM didn't just buy the area it would need for its own store...it bought 433 acres! This way, it can control which retailers are nearby.

3) Nearby Complements / Network Effects

Similarly, NFM gets to control what kind of consumer may be more likely to shop in the area. Buffett is looking for other high-volume retailers, who will draw to NFM exactly the kind of customer NFM is looking for.

4) Signaling Competitors

Though the store won't be built for a few years, Buffett has made his intentions clear. If you are a national or regional competitor looking for an expansion site, you've now been warned to stay away from North Dallas. Why compete on price with a determined, committed company when you would be better off choosing a less competitive (and therefore more lucrative) market? NFM and its competitors will be better off if they avoid directly competing with each other.

Warren Buffett has built an empire of businesses with protective economic "moats" around them. Occasionally, we are granted insight into some of these moats, which we can then apply when we make our own investing decisions.

Disclosure: No position

About the author:

Barel Karsan
Charlie Tian, Ph.D. - Founder of GuruFocus. You can now order his book Invest Like a Guru on Amazon.

Rating: 4.0/5 (21 votes)


Sapporosteve premium member - 5 years ago
Thanks for the insights. I suspect that the store will be finished just as the housing market picks up and Berkshire will benefit on that front as well.

Budlab - 5 years ago    Report SPAM
Great article. Discover several ways to build Competitive Advantages and an Economic Moat. The MOATS book is now on Amazon.com

Moats : The Competitive Advantages Of 70 Buffett And Munger Businesses


This may be the best business book that describes the competitive advantages of profitable businesses. MOATS describes the nature of 70 selected businesses purchased by Buffett and Munger for Berkshire Hathaway Inc. MOATS is a very useful resource for investors, managers, students of business. Since its subject matter has proven success, MOATS may become a useful practical text in businesses schools around the world. MOATS also looks at the sustainability of these competitive advantages in each of the 70 chapters.

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