13.11. Debt and Costs
Except for token amounts. . . . We are not interested in incurring any significant debt at Berkshire for acquisitions or operating purposes. Conventional business wisdom, of course, would argue that we are being too conservative and that there are added profits that could be safely earned if we injected moderate leverage into our balance sheet.
We use debt sparingly and, when we do borrow, we attempt to structure our loans on a long-term fixed-rate basis. We will reject interesting opportunities rather than over-leverage our balance sheet. This conservatism has penalized our results but it is the only behavior that leaves us comfortable, considering our fiduciary obligations to policyholders, lenders and the many equity holders who have committed unusually large portions of their net worth to our care. As one of the Indianapolis "500" winners said: "To finish first, you must first finish."
You may wonder why we borrow money while sitting on a mountain of cash. It's because of our "every tub on its own bottom" philosophy. We believe that any subsidiary lending money should pay an appropriate rate for the funds needed to carry its receivables and should not be subsidized by its parent. Otherwise, having a rich daddy can lead to sloppy decisions. Meanwhile, the cash we accumulate at Berkshire is destined for business acquisitions or for the purchase of securities that offer opportunities for significant profit.
In general, we continue to have an aversion ...