NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
When the Sage of Omaha speaks, Wall Street listens. That doesn't mean, however, that investors always follow his advice.
As one of the world's most talented investors, Warren Buffett has a cult-like following within the investment community. For his most earnest disciples, in fact, his annual letter to shareholders is akin to scripture, to be studied with Jesuitical zeal.
The latest edition of the missive will be published this weekend on the Web site of Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company Buffett controls. The letter will be equal parts folksy charm, hard-headed number crunching, and economic punditry.
Expect him to address topics like the federal budget deficit and its effect on the financial markets. He may also talk about the Bush administration's tax policies -- he's prominently opposed to them, especially their treatment of dividends -- and the weakened dollar.
He will almost surely say that stocks in general are overvalued, because, well, value guru Warren Buffett usually thinks this is the case. He said so last year, then Wall Street turned in a banner performance anyway.
No fan of derivatives
Many of Buffett's macroeconomic warnings over the years have prompted public debate but not much more.
Last year, he sounded an alarm on corporate governance. "As stock prices went up, the behavioral norms of managers went down," he wrote. "CEOs who traveled the high road did not encounter heavy traffic."
In most boardrooms, "collegiality trumped independence," Buffett wrote. He acknowledged that even when he was a director, challenging a CEO "would be like belching at the dinner table."
This was not a new theme. Ten years earlier, Buffett had complained about chummy boardrooms. In 1998, he attacked lavish stock option packages for CEOs. Those earlier pleas for reform went unheeded.
As a letter to shareholders, of course, the document's primary purpose is to explain the performance and competitive position of Berkshire Hathaway. The firm's holdings, then, influence the topics of discussion.
In the 2002 letter, Buffett called derivatives high-risk "time bombs," seemingly created by "madmen." That view -- quickly challenged by scores of pro-derivatives critics, including Alan Greenspan -- was based on his difficult experiences with General Re.
Berkshire acquired the reinsurance giant in 1998. The company carried far more derivatives-based risk on its books than Buffett thought prudent, but the challenges of reducing that exposure proved far more difficult than expected.
"The reinsurance and derivatives businesses are similar," he complained. "Like Hell, both are easy to enter and almost impossible to exit."
Two years ago, the letter was sourly pessimistic in the wake of the World Trade Center attack, for which various Berkshire units paid an estimated $2.5 billion in claims.
"The war on terrorism can never be won," Buffett said, arguing that either the government or companies like his would ultimately bear economic responsibility for terrorist risk.
His point then was that the financial, political and legal status of who covers what underwriting risk in a terrorist attack was highly unsettled. It still is.
Fans of the letters praise them as much for their literary quality -- a small team of people works on it with Buffett, including Fortune magazine editor Carol Loomis -- as for their financial insight.
Every year, he makes witty reference to partner Charlie Munger, who plays Sancho Panza to Buffett's Don Quixote. And every year, he sprinkles obscure little facts to help illustrate his points.
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In 2002, Buffett claimed Eddie Bennett as a "managerial model." Who? Bennett was a Major League batboy in the 1920s, who was associated with seven pennant winners across three teams. After his 1927 Yankees won the World Series, the team voted to give the batboy the extraordinary sum of $700.
"Eddie understood that how he lugged bats was unimportant," Buffett wrote. "What counted instead was hooking up with the cream of those on the playing field."
If you enjoy this sort of extended metaphor as a way of praising coworkers, Buffett is a must read.