Warren Buffett made a bet that a passive S&P 500 index fund would outperform a basket of hedge funds over a 10-year period, and it concluded at the end of 2017. Not only did Buffett's pick outperform the hedge funds it was up against, but it did so handily. Here's the final result of Buffett's bet on passive investing, and why Buffett prefers index funds to actively managed investments.
The bet, and the final results
In 2007, Warren Buffett made a bet against hedge-fund manager Ted Seides that a simple S&P 500 index fund would outperform a basket of at least five hedge funds over the course of a decade. The bet's time frame started in January 2008 and concluded at the end of 2017. It's now official -- Buffett is the winner, and by a large margin.
In fact, Seides had already conceded the bet earlier in 2017, due to the huge disparity in performance between his basket of hedge funds and Buffett's S&P 500 index fund. After all, through the end of 2016, the S&P 500 index fund had gained more than 85%, while the average of Seides' five baskets of funds was just 22%. Even the best performer of the five gained just 62.8% -- not one of the five baskets of hedge funds was able to beat a passive S&P 500 index fund.
Things didn't get any better for the hedge-fund portfolio throughout the rest of 2017. The final results were a 7.1% annualized gain for the S&P 500 index fund (about 99% overall return) versus just 2.2% annualized (about 24% total) for the basket of funds Seides had selected.
Buffett had pledged to give any proceeds from the bet to charity, and he selected Girls Inc. of Omaha. The funds from the bet were invested in Berkshire Hathaway(NYSE: BRK-B) stock, which has done quite well, so the original bet amount has grown significantly. In fact, the 11,200 class B shares in the pot are worth more than $2.2 million.
RELATED: Here's how Warren Buffett lives an extremely frugal life:
11 ways Warren Buffett lives frugally
11 ways Warren Buffett lives frugally
Warren Buffett’s House Is the Same One He Bought in 1958
Billionaires live in mansions, right? Not Buffett.
He lives in the same residence in Omaha, Neb., that he bought in 1958 for $31,500, the equivalent of roughly $270,000 in 2017 dollars. Buffett has no intention of putting his own home up for sale. "I wouldn't trade it for anything," he told CNBC earlier this year.
In today's money, Buffett would have paid about $41 per square foot for the 6,570-square-foot home. But these days, you'll pay about $143 per square foot for a home in Omaha of that size and era, based on the listing of a home in the neighborhood of the multi-billionaire.
If you want to live like Buffett, consider buying less home than you can afford. Instead of paying pricey mortgage payments, you'll be able to put more of your money toward savings, retirement or vacations.
And if you must take out a loan, perhaps get a 30-year mortgage — it's "the best instrument in the world," Buffett told CNBC. In fact, Buffett took out a 30-year mortgage in 1971 when he bought a vacation home in Laguna Beach, Calif.
"If you're wrong and rates go to 2 percent, which I don't think they will, you pay it off," he said. "It's a one-way renegotiation. It is an incredibly attractive instrument for the homeowner and you've got a one-way bet."
Wrong. Adopting Buffett's lifestyle doesn't include paying high prices for daily gourmet French toast prepared in the comforts of your own home.
When it comes to food, the billionaire investor has been known to save money by taking the fast-food route. In fact, he might kick off his day with a trip to McDonald's during his five-minute drive to work, reports CNBC.
If he's feeling rich, he'll splurge by spending $3.17 on a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich. If the market's down, he might spend $2.95 on a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich instead. On a really bad day, he buys two sausage patties for $2.61, puts them together and washes it down with a Coke he pours himself.
Buffett also is known to opt for cheap food when he's on the road — but forget the cholesterol-soaked bacon and eggs at a local restaurant. Buffett's travel breakfast might consist of a pack of Oreos, his friend Bill Gates — yes, his good buddy is the Microsoft founder — wrote on his blog.
"One thing that was surprising to learn about Warren is that he has basically stuck to eating what he liked when he was 6 years old," Gates wrote. "He did move past baby food, of course, but he mostly eats hamburgers, ice cream and Coke."
Buffett explained his diet in a 2015 interview with Fortune: "I checked the actuarial tables, and the lowest death rate is among 6-year-olds. So I decided to eat like a 6-year-old. It's the safest course I can take."
In a BBC documentary, his daughter, Susie Buffett, said he bought cars that he could get at reduced prices — like those that had been damaged by hail. The cars were fixed and didn't look hail-damaged and became a regular part of the Buffett lifestyle.
"You've got to understand, he keeps cars until I tell him, 'This is getting embarrassing — time for a new car,'" said his daughter in the documentary.
Buffett also told Forbes in 2014 about his car-buying habits — or lack thereof. "The truth is, I only drive about 3,500 miles a year so I will buy a new car very infrequently," he said.
Remember this the next time you're in the market for a car: Cars tend to depreciate quickly, so it can be better for your finances if you try to keep your well-working car for as long as possible — or at least opt to buy a used car instead of new.
Buffett Enjoys Affordable Hobbies
A commitment to live like Warren Buffett doesn't mean all work and no play. After all, even billionaires have hobbies. But compared to other famous CEOs, investors and entrepreneurs, Buffett's hobbies are much more affordable. For example, he enjoys playing bridge.
"If I play bridge and a naked woman walks by, I don't even see her," laughed Buffett during a CBS News "Sunday Morning" interview. Yep, Buffett is a self-proclaimed bridge addict, and you might even catch him playing the game about 12 hours a week.
"I one time said that I wouldn't mind going to jail if I had the right three cellmates so we can play bridge all the time," he also said in the interview.
When Buffett's not busy being a business mogul, you might find him strumming his ukulele and singing as well. He's played for investors and at charity events. A video of him playing the instrument with Gates even went viral after it was posted on Gates' blog in 2016.
Buffett Treats His Friends Well, But Not Extravagantly
What do you give a friend who's also a billionaire? Buffett's long-standing friendship with Gates is legendary. The Microsoft magnate explained on his blog what's kept their friendship strong over the years:
"I've learned many things from Warren over the last 25 years, but maybe the most important thing is what friendship is all about," he said. "It's about being the kind of friend you wish you had yourself. Everyone should be lucky enough to have a friend who is as thoughtful and kind as Warren. He goes out of the way to make people feel good about themselves and share his joy about life."
And those special touches don't have to be expensive. For example, Buffett drives personally to the airport to pick up Gates whenever he's in town, calls frequently and sends news clippings by mail that he thinks Gates and his wife will enjoy.
Those special touches that mean a lot to friends just might be the best takeaway for those seeking to live the Warren Buffett lifestyle.
Buffett Used a Nokia Flip Phone Long After Smartphones Existed
Buffett likely won't be shelling out $999 for the iPhone X. The billionaire revealed in a 2013 interview with CNN that he still used a Nokia flip phone.
"This is the one Alexander Graham Bell gave me," he joked about his phone. "I don't throw anything away until I've had it 20 or 25 years."
While it's tempting to always splurge on the latest technology, take a page from Buffett's book and only upgrade your phone when you really need to. If you insist on buying the latest iPhone to hit the market, look for other ways to save on your phone expenses, such as using a no-contract phone plan or buying a family plan to share data.
Buffett Doesn’t Splurge on Wallets and Designer Suits
Buffett revealed in the CNN interview that he's used the same black wallet for 20 years. He also shuns high-end designer suits. Instead, he exclusively wears suits created by a Chinese sewing entrepreneur named Madam Li, whom he met in 2007.
"They fit perfectly," he said of the suits in a 2017 CNBC interview. "We get compliments on them. It's been a long time since I got compliments on how I looked but, since I am wearing Madame Li's suits, I get compliments all the time."
The takeaway: Opt for quality goods that will last you a long time, rather than buying something just because it has a brand name attached to it.
Buffett Clips Coupons
Buffett proves that even billionaires still appreciate an opportunity to save money. In Bill and Melinda Gates' 2017 annual letter, Bill recalled a trip he took with the investor, during which Buffett paid for their fast-food lunch using coupons. He even provided photographic proof of this.
"Remember the laugh we had when we traveled together to Hong Kong and decided to get lunch at McDonald’s? You offered to pay, dug into your pocket, and pulled out…coupons!" Bill wrote. "Melinda just found this photo of me and 'the big spender.' It reminded us how much you value a good deal."
Save on your next purchase — even if it's something as inexpensive as a McDonald's meal — by using applicable discounts, which you can easily find on online coupon sites.
Buffett Has Worked in the Same Office Building for More Than 50 Years
Buffett has remained in the same office building since he joined Berkshire Hathaway in the 1960s.
"It's a different sort of place," Buffett said of the company's Omaha headquarters in the 2017 HBO documentary "Becoming Warren Buffett," CNBC reports. "We have 25 people in the office and if you go back, it's the exact same 25. The exact same ones. We don't have any committees at Berkshire. We don't have a public relations department. We don't have investor relations. We don't have a general counsel. We just don't go for anything that people do just as a matter of form."
Even if you're not a business owner, you can still benefit from Buffett's way of thinking. It boils down to the old saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Buffett Thinks Outside the Box to Save Money
In Roger Lowenstein's biography of the businessman, "Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist," the author says that after Buffett's first child was born, he converted a dresser drawer into a space for the baby to sleep instead of spending money on a bassinet, reports Forbes. When it came to the family's second child, he borrowed a crib rather than buy one.
Perhaps making your baby sleep in a drawer seems a little extreme, but it's just an example of thinking outside the box. Use resources that are already available to you to prevent unnecessary spending.
Buffett Values Relationships Over Material Things
Buffett explained his choice to live frugally during a 2009 Q&A session he conducted with a group of business school students.
"You can’t buy health and you can’t buy love," said Buffett, according to the Underground Value blog. "I’m a member of every golf club that I want to be a member of [...] I’d rather play golf here with people I like than at the fanciest golf course in the world. [...] I’m not interested in cars, and my goal is not to make people envious."
And in a 2017 interview with People, Susie Buffett said of her father: "...it’s really true that he does not care about having a bunch of money." Instead, she said, he emphasizes family.
“I don’t think people realize, he’s got a bunch of great-grandchildren and he could tell you everything about what they’re all doing. He knows every one of those kids and he knows about their lives,” she said.
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Why Buffett was willing to bet on index funds
It may seem odd that someone who has built his reputation (and an enormous fortune) on his ability to pick winning investments would bet on a basic S&P 500 index fund. However, Buffett's logic certainly makes sense.
First of all, Buffett is not suggesting that all investors should go sell their stock holdings and buy passive index funds. Buffett doesn't necessarily have anything against stock picking if you have the time, knowledge, desire, and discipline to do it properly. However, the majority of people don't, which is why Buffett has said that index funds are the best investment most Americans can make.
Buffett's issue isn't with individual stocks. Rather, it's with y, particularly those that charge high fees, like hedge funds. Buffett acknowledges that in any given year, some fund managers will certainly beat the market. On the other hand, some will lose to the market. And since all of these funds charge fees, investors are at an inherent disadvantage, especially over the long run.
To be fair...
In fairness, Buffett was helped tremendously by the fact that during most of the bet, one of the longest bull markets in history had been playing out.
Hedge funds are better suited to outperform the market during tough times. After all, their name comes from their ability to employ hedging strategies, one of their key advantages over passive index funds, and one that matters far less when stocks seem to do nothing but rise. And hedge-fund fees can be dramatically lower when the market is declining. The standard hedge-fund fee structure is 2% of assets and 20% of gains each year, so the latter part doesn't come into play in down years.
This is illustrated by the bet's outcome over its first year, 2008. Buffett's S&P 500 index fund lost 37%, while the hedge fund portfolio only lost 23.9%.
Still, Buffett's logic holds true in any market. Some funds will win, some funds will lose, but the fee structure puts investors at an inherent disadvantage. It's also worth pointing out that the market historically has had far more positive than negative years -- over the past 50 years, the S&P 500 has produced a negative total return just 10 times -- so the hedging "advantage" doesn't come into play too often.
Matthew Frankel owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.