Warren Buffett once quipped, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” The adage certainly seems applicable in the current market environment. Most investors perform well when the market is rising. But when the market is down, it’s more readily apparent which investors have the best approaches.
We’ve seen some large, well-known companies deliver disappointing quarterly results in recent weeks. However, there are some noticeable exceptions that make Buffett look quite astute. You might even say that the latest earnings reports from Apple (AAPL -1.54%), Bank of America (BAC -0.39%), and Chevron (CVX 0.51%) show that the Warren Buffett way still works.
What is the Warren Buffett way?
Buffett focuses on businesses instead of stocks. The legendary investor adamantly insisted in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A -1.52%) (BRK.B -1.51%) shareholders earlier this year that he and his longtime business associate Charlie Munger “are not stock-pickers; we are business-pickers.”
He especially likes businesses that are well-run and that have sustainable competitive advantages. Buffett prefers to invest in companies that have moats — distinct competitive advantages that enable them to flourish over the long term.
If you want examples of these kinds of businesses, just look at the top holdings in Buffett’s portfolio. Apple is by far the biggest position. It’s followed by Bank of America. Chevron now ranks as Berkshire’s third-largest holding (including the shares owned by its New England Asset Management subsidiary).
Buffett refers to Apple as one of Berkshire’s “four giants” — and it’s the only one of those giants that isn’t a Berkshire subsidiary. He’s been a longtime fan of bank stocks, with Bank of America clearly his favorite. The multibillionaire also foresaw that energy stocks would perform well after they were hammered during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Buffett loaded up on Chevron to profit from the predicted rebound.
Three for three
The “Oracle of Omaha” has gone three for three with his top holdings in the latest earnings season. Apple, Bank of America, and Chevron delivered better-than-expected results.
Apple reported its highest fiscal Q4 revenue ($90.1 billion) in company history. Importantly, this milestone was achieved despite stiff currency headwinds. The tech giant also posted its highest fiscal Q4 gross profit margin ever.
Bank of America easily topped Wall Street revenue and earnings estimates with its Q3 results. Rising interest rates hurt some businesses, but they helped BofA. The company’s net interest income jumped $1.4 billion from the previous quarter — well above management’s previous guidance of $1 billion.
Chevron stock hit an all-time high after the giant oil and gas producer reported outstanding Q3 results. The company’s profit nearly doubled year over year to $11.2 billion. Chevron generated record-high cash flow from operations of $15.3 billion. This strong performance was driven by higher oil prices.
Not just one quarter
Buffett would probably be the first person to tell you not to focus too heavily on one quarter. However, the solid results for Apple, Bank of America, and Chevron reflect underlying business strengths that aren’t just temporary.
CEO Tim Cook said in Apple’s quarterly conference call, “There’s no other company that fuses best-in-class hardware with cutting-edge software and services to create a truly integrated and seamless experience.” Buffett would almost certainly agree with that statement. And Apple’s continued success arguably validates it.
Bank of America has led the financial services industry in adopting technology. This innovation has enabled the company to grow while operating with fewer employees than it had seven years ago. Around 80% of BofA’s customers actively use its digital platform.
Chevron is taking advantage of the current favorable industry dynamics in several ways. The company has paid down debt for six consecutive quarters. It’s investing in new energy sources, including renewable energy as well as carbon capture and storage.
Well-run businesses with competitive advantages tend to win over the long term. Buffett knows that as well as anyone on the planet. It’s not surprising at all that his three biggest positions are beating expectations during a period of economic uncertainty. That’s just the Warren Buffett way at work.
Bank of America is an advertising partner of The Ascent, a Motley Fool company. Keith Speights has positions in Apple, Bank of America, and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Apple and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2023 $200 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple, short January 2023 $200 puts on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short January 2023 $265 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.