May 3 As the United States adapts to the
presidency of Donald Trump and faces rising tensions abroad,
Berkshire Hathaway Inc shareholders will descend on
Omaha, Nebraska this weekend seeking reassurance, from Warren
The weekend known as "Woodstock for Capitalists" is unique
in corporate America, a celebration of the billionaire's image
and success at a conglomerate whose businesses range from Geico
insurance to the BNSF railroad to See's candies to Ginsu knives.
Buffett, 86, and vice chairman Charlie Munger, 93, will
answer five hours of questions at Saturday's annual meeting.
Many say it reinforces their views about investing and
Berkshire, even if it remains unclear how much new they learn.
"Watching someone like (Buffett) with strong command on
details of the economy and Berkshire's operations is very
impressive," said Meyer Shields, a Keefe, Bruyette & Woods
analyst who rates Berkshire "market perform." "But you're not
going to learn a lot about Berkshire Hathaway the company."
Last year's attendance fell to about 37,000 from more than
40,000 a year earlier.
But there were also 1.1 million real-time sign-ons to Yahoo
Finance, which webcast the meeting for the first time. It will
do so again, in English and Mandarin.
LARGE, LARGE ORGANIZATION
Much of Berkshire's relative outperformance came decades ago
when it was much smaller, and even Buffett has called the
company's huge size an "anchor on investment performance."
Buffett has said Berkshire owns 10 businesses big enough to
make the Fortune 500 list of large U.S. companies on their own.
But details can be thin. For example, aircraft parts maker
Precision Castparts, acquired last year for $32.1 billion,
merited about a page in Berkshire's annual report.
Precision's final annual report, in 2015, ran 87 pages.
"It's a large, large organization," said Jeffrey Stacey,
founder of Stacey Muirhead Capital Management in Waterloo,
Ontario, who is attending his 26th straight meeting. "I am
willing to give it the benefit of the doubt because the track
record has been so good for so long."
Buffett said in February that boosting disclosure could put
many Berkshire businesses at a disadvantage, and that "it's the
growth of the Berkshire forest that counts."
He also knows the perils of conglomerates, saying in 2015
that dubious accounting, self-promotion and mediocre businesses
make them "richly deserve" their "terrible" reputation.
Buffett says Berkshire is different, in part because he took
Munger's advice to buy wonderful businesses at fair prices.
Shareholders enjoy that focus less than they once did.
Berkshire's share price has slightly lagged the Standard &
Poor's 500 including dividends during the eight-year bull
market, but has outperformed since the global financial crisis
mushroomed in September 2008.
Shields, who is not attending Saturday's meeting, wants
Buffett to reveal more, even if shareholders can "safely assume"
his eventual successor as chief executive is top-flight.
While Buffett and Munger do not know in advance the
questions they will get from shareholders, journalists and
analysts at Saturday's meeting, they can anticipate many.
Buffett may need to review Berkshire's support of Wells
Fargo & Co, in which it holds a roughly 10 percent
stake, despite a sales scandal over bogus customer accounts.
He may also get questions about his support for 3G Capital,
a Brazilian firm known for ruthless cost-cutting. Berkshire
controls Kraft Heinz Co with 3G, and recently tried to
help 3G buy Unilever NV for $143 billion.
Trump is sure to come up. Buffett did not support his
election but Berkshire's book value could swell by $36 billion
with his proposed corporate tax cuts, Barclays Capital said.
Buffett may also get questions about his surprise bets on
Apple Inc and the four biggest U.S. airlines.
Having gone over a year since a big acquisition, Buffett may
be asked how he can better deploy the $86.4 billion of cash,
equivalents and Treasury bills that Berkshire recently held.
Succession may also come up. Indeed, Buffett has already
delegated work to lieutenants like Ajit Jain, Gregory Abel,
Tracy Britt Cool and Todd Combs that he once would do himself.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jennifer
Ablan and Lisa Shumaker)