Moat

The competitive advantage of a company.
By Warren Buffett
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Summary

A moat is the competitive advantage one company has over another.

Similar to the age of castles, great businesses have a moat around them to fend of competitors. The wider the moat, the more likely it is to stand the test of time.

Moat elements:

  • strong brand
  • pricing power
  • market share
  • switching costs
  • efficient scale
  • network effects
  • intangible assets ( intellectual property )

Example

Warren Buffett on moats…

“In business, I look for economic castles protected by unbreachable ‘moats’.”

"The moat in a business like our auto insurance business at GEICO is low cost. I mean people have to buy auto insurance so everybody's going to have one auto insurance policy per car, basically, or per driver. And I can't sell them 20, but they have to buy one. What are they going to buy it on? They're going to buy it based on service and cost. Most people will assume the service is fairly identical among companies, or close enough, so they're going to do it on cost, so I gotta be the low-cost producer. That's my moat. To the extent my costs get further lower than the other guy, I've thrown a couple of sharks into the moat."

“Our managers of the businesses we run, I've got one message to them, which is to widen the moat. And we want to throw crocodiles and sharks and everything else, gators, I guess, into the moat to keep away competitors. And that comes about through service, it comes about through quality of product, it comes about through cost, it comes about sometimes through patents, it comes about through real estate location."

So we think in terms of that moat and the ability to keep its width and its impossibility of being crossed as the primary criterion of a great business. And we tell our managers we want the moat widened every year. That doesn't necessarily mean the profit will be more this year than it was last year because it won't be sometimes. However, if the moat is widened every year, the business will do very well. When we see a moat that's tenuous in any way — it's just too risky. We don't know how to evaluate that. And, therefore, we leave it alone. We think that all of our businesses — or virtually all of our businesses — have pretty darned good moats.

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