Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting
Always a favorite of the Berkshire Hathaway shopping extravaganza, taking photo with Warren’s cutout. (Courtesy of Steve Jordon)
Reporters Steve Jordon and Cindy Gonzalez provide live reports from Berkshire Hathaway’s 2022 annual meeting, held Saturday, April 30, at the CHI Health Center convention center in downtown Omaha.
5 months ago
Buffett sees Berkshire Hathaway as a painting with ‘ever-expanding canvas’
Warren Buffett said he sometimes thinks of Berkshire Hathaway as a painting.
“It’s unlimited in size,” he told shareholders at their annual meeting Saturday in Omaha. “It’s got an ever-expanding canvas, and I get to paint what I want. … It’s the closest thing I can come to enjoying myself every minute of the day.”
Other comments during the meeting:
- Buffett once said that becoming CEO of a business didn’t require putting his citizenship “in a blind trust,” so he would speak out on public issues occasionally. Saturday, he said his comments sometimes had hurt some Berkshire businesses and their employees when customers reacted with boycotts. “I’ve decided to back off. I don’t want to make those divisive comments.”
- Today’s inflation is occurring partly because of the amount of money the federal government pumped into the U.S. economy to support it during the shutdowns enacted during the pandemic, Buffett and Munger said. They added that it was a good thing for the government to do to help people survive. “People have more money than before, and they like to buy,” Buffett said. The Federal Reserve reported $800 billion in circulation 15 years ago, which has increased to $2.2 trillion today. “Cash is dead, and yet we have on average $7,000 in cash per person in the United States. … We are seeing the unleashing of the fact that people have got lots of money.”
- The best individual defense against inflation, Buffett said, is improving your skills and knowledge to increase your personal earning power.
- Buffett and Munger declined to comment on proposals to tax unrealized gains on investments, which would apply to both of them. “I generally stay out of the income tax thing,” Munger said. “My policy is, I pay whatever tax I’m supposed to pay.”
- Washington Post editor Meg Greenfield once told Buffett, who had written a 7,000-word essay for Fortune Magazine, “Warren, you don’t have to tell everything you know in this article.” He shortened the essay.
- Munger said he made investments in China several years ago when there were lower-cost investments and “hopeful signs” that China’s regime was becoming more favorable. Now, he said, “Everybody is more worried about China now than they were two or three years ago.”
- “Pure luck” had a role in Berkshire’s development, Buffett said. One such case: Jack Ringwalt, in a temporary bit of frustration, agreed to sell National Indemnity Insurance Company, giving Berkshire entry into the insurance business that was a key to its growth. But Berkshire’s ability to make quick decisions, such as buying National Indemnity, also contributed to its success. “We are extraordinarily well-positioned to do exactly as we want to do, and at the same time never come close to making a promise we can’t keep.”
- Buffett and Munger have made some “dumb decisions” in the past, such as buying a department store in the 1950s. It was run by “wonderful people,” Buffett said, but he should have foreseen its failure. “Why in the hell did we do it in the first place?” Buffett asked. “Because we were stupid,” Munger said.
5 months ago
Omaha couple like their Dilly Bars almost as much as wisdom from Warren and Charlie
Jim and Jeanette West stopped momentarily between the Dilly Bars and the garden gloves.
The Omaha couple had bought their favorites from each of those vendors, and perhaps not an hour too soon. Pickings were thinning.
Dairy Queen brought 22,000 assorted ice cream bars to this year’s Berkshire Hathaway event, said spokeswoman Amie Hoffner. Marmon Holdings came with roughly 10,000 pairs of various Wells Lamont glove types, said spokesman David Dees.
Each said they expected to sell out of the shareholder discounted merchandise, or at least come close.
“I enjoy the shopping,” Jeanette said. But the treat, she said, has always been listening to entertaining and wise words from Warren Buffett and the blunt wit of Charlie Munger.
This year, she added, something even more special topped it off: seeing and hearing newer Berkshire leadership Greg Abel and Ajit Jain share the stage with the long-timers.
“I like the two new guys a lot,” Jeanette said. “I’m happy they’re up there.”
Added Jim: “It gives us a chance to see what’s coming in the future.”
5 months ago
Americans are getting more ‘tribal,’ Warren Buffett says, and that’s not good
Warren Buffett said people in the United States have become more and more “tribal,” and “I don’t think it’s a good development for society when people get tribal.”
The last time the United States was so sharply divided in politics was during Franklin Roosevelt’s years as president. Buffett said his own family was so staunchly Republican that he and his sisters wouldn’t get dessert “until we said something nasty about Roosevelt.”
Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger said the process of redrawing political districts based on the national census every decade contributes to today’s extreme partisanship.
The gerrymandered districts are drawn by “insane rightists” and “insane leftists” who revise the districts to throw moderates out of office, Munger said. “That’s government in California.”
When Buffett noted that Munger lives in California, Munger responded, “I prefer living there to living in Russia.”
5 months ago
Buffett prefers assets with value over cryptocurrency
Warren Buffett wouldn’t take $25 for all the bitcoin.
Asked about the future of cryptocurrency, Buffett gave a hypothetical answer:
If someone offered to sell him 1% of all the farmland or 1% of all apartments in the United States for $25 billion, he said, he’d take the deal.
If someone offered to sell him all the bitcoin for $25, “I wouldn’t do it.”
Anybody that thinks the United States is going to change to where they let Berkshire money replace theirs is out of their mind.
– Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway chairman
At Saturday’s meeting of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders, Berkshire Chairman Buffett said value depends on what an asset can produce, such as farm crops or rent. Great paintings might have a lasting value, he said.
Not bitcoin, he said.
“There’s only one currency that’s accepted in the United States,” he said, which is the reason he can’t issue “Berkshire money” on his own. “Anybody that thinks the United States is going to change to where they let Berkshire money replace theirs is out of their mind.”
Whether bitcoin loses or gains value over 10, 20 or 50 years, he said, “it doesn’t produce anything. … People attach magic to a lot of things. You can make up things that work well and get money from other people.”
Vice Chairman Charlie Munger said he has three reasons to dislike crypto-currency: It’s “stupid” because its value will go to zero; it’s “evil because it undermines the Federal Reserve” and the currency system; and accepting it in the United States “makes us look foolish to the Communists who are in China” and have banned cryptocurrency.
5 months ago
These shoppers are serious: First buy bargains, then buy bargain suitcases to haul bargains
The Cretsingers were onto something in the Fruit of the Loom store.
Gavin, 25, and his dad, Wiltsie, each bought a suitcase-on-wheels while shopping Saturday at the popular clothing and underwear vendor that’s part of the Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate.
Once checked out, the dad-son duo stopped in their tracks to stuff into their new half-priced luggage merchandise they’d been toting in their arms — Pampered Chef pasta tongs, See’s peanut brittle and chocolate, books, sneakers, shirts.
A few onlookers taking notice of the clever move were a bit too late: all the suitcases were gone by the time they went to buy their own.
Shopping for discounts is a big draw at the “Berkshire Bazaar of Bargains,” the CHI Health Center convention hall loaded with 30 or so booths and exhibitions of Berkshire-owned companies.
Shareholders have often said they wait for the annual event to stock up on undergarments and other necessities. And since the group hasn’t assembled since 2019 because of the pandemic, many were raring to go.
In the Cretsingers’ case, the men also picked up items for other family members. After Fruit of the Loom, they headed to the Nebraska Furniture Mart area. Gavin was on the hunt for a bed for the new house he just bought in their town of Coon Rapids, Iowa.
(For purchases that won’t fit in a suitcase, Berkshire provides shipping services for its shareholders.)
While the Cretsingers enjoyed the mini shopping spree, they said they were really in Omaha for the business. Dad, a longtime Berkshire shareholder in the real estate and insurance business, said he always stressed to his kids the value of investing, and to this day they still try to stash away at least $100 a month.
Saturday was Gavin’s first Berkshire Hathaway meeting, and he did not want to miss the opportunity to revel in the stage presence of Warren Buffett, 91, and Charlie Munger, 98.
“They’ll go down in history,” the younger Cretsinger said. “To see them in the flesh, that’s pretty incredible.”
Last updated: 5:53 pm
5 months ago
Geiko gecko waiting … waiting … waiting for fans
There was no love for Geico gecko in the several minutes a reporter stood waiting for shareholders to take a photo with him. That seemed unusual, relative to past years, but crowds also appeared lighter this year. Berkshire officials did not respond to reporter requests for crowd estimate.
Last updated: 2:14 pm
5 months ago
Warren Buffett implies use of ‘tactical nuclear weapons’ has become a possibility in Ukraine
In comments clearly referring to the war in Ukraine, Warren Buffett said Saturday that the use of “tactical nuclear weapons” has become a possibility.
“It is a very, very, very, very dangerous world,” Buffett said in response to a question during the annual meeting of shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., of which he is chairman.
Buffett did not name Ukraine or Vladimir Putin, but the Russian president has threatened using nuclear weapons in the conflict with Ukraine. Military experts say one of his options is to explode small-scale tactical nuclear weapons to achieve his goals in the war.
As the Russian attack has stalled in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance and support from Western nations, the experts have said the likelihood of such a step may be increasing.
It is a very, very, very, very dangerous world.
– Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett
“Now, of course, all day every day, people are dying who you very much sympathize with,” Buffett said, an apparent reference to Ukraine. He said it’s disturbing that there’s a chance “someone” may use a “tactical nuclear weapon” because he thinks he is losing a war.
Buffett cited earlier incidents, such as the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when the Soviet Union and the United States came close to a nuclear exchange. “Humanity has not really come up with a counter-solution,” he said. “We’ll see what happens, but so far, so good.”
The shareholder had asked whether nuclear and cyber attacks threaten Berkshire’ future.
Ajit Jain, vice chairman of Berkshire’s insurance operations, said that the company’s property insurance policies exclude damage from nuclear attacks but that the courts or insurance regulators likely would require payments for fires caused by nuclear explosions.
Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire, said that if nuclear war breaks out, “there won’t be any regulators.”
As for cyber attacks, Greg Abel, who oversees Berkshire’s non-insurance operations, said Berkshire businesses, especially its railroad and power companies, experience cyber attacks every day but focus considerable effort on thwarting them. He said that government agencies and businesses cooperate to stop such attacks and that Berkshire hasn’t been seriously damaged.
Last updated: 1:15 pm
5 months ago
Some shareholders are bargain hunters when it comes to lodging during Berkshire’s annual meeting
Berkshire Hathaway’s star is a billionaire, and many fans flocking to Omaha to see him this weekend have made big bucks on Berkie stock.
But that doesn’t mean shareholders aren’t on the hunt for a bargain. Kachirayan Saravanan, for example, came from Connecticut to catch his second Berkshire show and checked in at a hotel in Blair — 30 miles north of Omaha and away from the bustle of downtown activities where the bulk of weekend events are based.
He and a friend stayed at a $90-a-night hotel, deciding they’d splurge on other things besides lodging.
Last time Saravanan came to Omaha, he paid about $250 a night. While there were more vacancies at area hotels this year, many downtown properties said they were still able to hike their prices beyond normal for the high-profile event.
One boutique hotel said late-committing guests paid about $900 a night. Others said they at least doubled their rates and required a two-night stay.
“I’m here for the experience,” said Saravanan. “Always the experience.”
The engineering consultant was among the minority Saturday who wore masks during the business meeting. Proof of COVID-19 vaccinations was required for entry this year, which slowed the check-in process at the CHI center, compared to years past.
“With a crowd this big, I’d rather have the protection,” Saravanan said. He said he never had any hesitation about whether to attend the meeting, though.
He and friend Prabhu Ramakrishnan said they wanted to be sure to soak in advice and witticisms dished out by CEO Warren Buffett and longtime business partner Charlie Munger. The two are aged 91 and 98, respectively.
“I’m excited to see both Warren and Charlie,” said Ramakrishnan, who is attending his first Berkshire annual meeting. “I’ve never seen so many people with so much hunger for learning.”
Last updated: 12:36 pm
5 months ago
Can’t predict the market or the economy, Buffett says
A shareholder from New Jersey said Buffett has a good record of investing in businesses at the right time, even though he claims he can’t “time” his investments to benefit from the stock market.
“How do you time the market moves so well?” the shareholder said.
Buffett said he doesn’t try to time the market and has made plenty of investments at the wrong time.
“We haven’t the faintest idea what the market’s going to do when it opens Monday,” he said, anc can’t predict how the economy will do tomorrow.
But, he added, “we’ve been reasonably good deciding whether we would get something for our money.”
Discussing people who make lots of money on investments, he said, “Capitalism is very, very, very peculiar in how it dishes out rewards.”
Munger added: “The world is madly ridiculous.”
Munger: “I don’t know about you, but I’ve slightly improved since I was 17.”
Buffett: “You ought to be a better person in the second half of your life” because you have “had a chance to see how stupid you were. … Forget about the first half. Enjoy the second half.”
Munger: “I don’t even look at what I’ve done in the first half of my life because it would embarrass me.”
5 months ago
Buffett open to buying foreign businesses
Buffett said that he’s open to buying foreign businesses but that few business owners from other countries call to offer their companies for sale. “It just doesn’t happen that way,” he said. “We have so much trouble finding good ideas that we can’t afford to ignore anybody. … We actually prefer it when they fall into our lap.”
Buffett also noted that Berkshire has benefited from companies in which it owns stock, such as American Express and Apple, because many of them buy up their own shares. That increases Berkshire’s holdings.
“Imagine if you owned a farm and you had 640 acres, and you farmed it,” he said. “Every year you made a little money on it, and you enjoyed farming, and somehow 20 or so years later, it had turned into 1,00 or 1,200 acres.” That’s similar to the effect of well-timed stock repurchases.
CNBC’s Becky Quick asked questions that had been submitted by shareholders. One questioner said that Union Pacific Railroad outperformed Berkshire’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe and that Progressive Insurance has outperformed Berkshire’s Geico.
Vice Chairman Greg Abel, who supervises Berkshire’s non-insurance businesses, said, “I would put our team up right beside” any competitors and promised “long-term improvement. … We have a journey ahead of us.” He told Vice Chairman Charlie Munger that he wouldn’t trade BNSF for any other railroad.
Ajit Jain, vice chairman for insurance, said that insurance is a “very competitive” business and that both Progressive and Geico are good companies. Progressive has done better lately, he said, and Geico is working to improve. “It’s a long journey, but the journey has started.”
5 months ago
‘We’re better than the banks,’ Warren Buffett says
Chairman Warren Buffett said “one fellow in the office” spent $41 billion over a three-week period this year, repurchasing Berkshire shares. “He likes what he does. … We only repurchase shares when that is the best thing to do,” Buffett said.
“We will always have a lot of cash on hand,” he said. “We have Treasury bills. … We believe in having cash. There have been a few times in history when if you don’t have it, you don’t get to play the next day.”
Having a line of bank credit isn’t worth it, he said. “We’re better than the banks.”
Buffett gave a strong defense of U.S, currency, echoing his earlier comments that cryptocurrencies do not have staying power.
“Money’s an interesting thing,” Buffett said, as a photo of a $20 bill popped up on the video screen. He read the inscription: “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.”
He also showed an older $20 bill, issued by a bank in Illinois, which supposedly could be exchanged for actual U.S. currency. But only Federal Reserve notes carry the guarantee of being accepted, he said.
“When people tell you that they are issuing new forms of money, this is the only thing that will pay bills under some circumstances,” he said.
In 2008 and 2020, he said, the Federal Reserve had to act quickly to avert a monetary disaster.
“The Federal Reserve can do whatever is necessary,” Buffett said. “And that’s what will happen the next time.”
5 months ago
Two men met years ago at Berkshire meeting and have rendezvoused there ever since
Matt McAllister of Alabama counts this as his 13th Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting.
Bill Kramer of Philadelphia has been to six in the 22 years he has owned company stock.
The two met about six years ago while waiting to get into the Omaha arena to see and hear billionaire CEO Warren Buffett give a first-hand account of the company’s worth and other musings. And ever since — no matter the miles between them or the months they don’t speak — the two make the annual call to set up plans to reunite in Omaha.
McAllister and Kramer were among countless others Saturday with the same story: investment gurus eager to up their financial game while also rekindling friendships made throughout the years while at Berkshire meetings.
Saturday, the men stood for hours next to Matias Alem, a Brazil native living in Miami Beach, who was attending his very first shareholders meeting. The group clicked. And now, it seems, there will be another man on the call organizing next year’s reunion in Omaha.
“It’s nice to be in this environment, in this group of people,” said Alem.
The real estate owner, while a newbie to Berkyville, came with knowledge gained through watching videos of past annual meetings. Something he was not privy to, though, was the fun movie starring Buffett, Charlie Munger and other celebrities that kicks off the business meeting.
That crowd favorite is not shared outside the live meetings.
“So I’m waiting for that movie,” Alem said while preparing to land a seat in the auditorium.
He and his newfound friends said they’re amazed at the friendliness of business owners and others they’ve met in Omaha.
Said Alem: “How this city gets transformed during the event, that’s the biggest shock so far.”
5 months ago
‘Extreme aversion’ to losing shareholders’ funds
Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett said as many as 3 million people might own Berkshire shares, either directly or through investment funds.
On a video screen, he showed a chart of the first-quarter results, which he said had “no great surprises.” Operating earnings totaled about $7 billion of “real money,” which he credited to the Berkshire managers and 370,000 employees.
- “We enjoy getting surprised by almost all questions.”
- “Obviously the last two years in particular, including the first quarter, all kinds of unusual things happened in our various businesses.”
- “We have an extreme aversion to incurring any permanent loss of your funds.”
- “The idea of losing, permanently, other people’s money, people who trust us, really, that’s just a future I don’t want to have.”
5 months ago
‘You’e entitled to actually see them in person’
“OK,” Warren Buffett said, and the lights on the stage went up. The crowd gave an extended cheer and applause.
“The two of us are 190 years old,” Buffett said, sitting alongside Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, along with Ajit Jain and Greg Abel. I really think you’re entitled, if you’re the owner of the company, and you’ve got two guys 98 and 91, you’re entitled to actually see them in person. It shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Buffett discussed Berkshire’s first-quarter results and said he would then open up the meeting for questions until an hour’s lunch break, followed by more questions and the official annual meeting at 3:45 p.m., which he said would take about 15 minutes.
Buffett said about 12,000 shareholders came to the CHI Health Center Friday afternoon. “We set a (sales) record yesterday for the Friday afternoon before the meeting.” He said See’s Candy brought in 11 tons of candy. “If we don’t sell out, Charlie and I get the rest.”
Last updated: 10:43 am
5 months ago
Company movie has Buffett trapped in ‘Groundhog Day’-esque segment
The Berkshire company movie featured a lengthy report on the Berkshire Hathaway Energy division, emphasizing “clean power” and efforts to reduce emissions while helping communities in its region grow and prosper.
Berkshire is being challenged to report more detailed information on its companies’ efforts to improve the environment.
A new segment shows Warren Buffett caught in a “Groundhog Day” loop, waking up in the morning, already wearing a suit and making his way to the annual meeting, to the tune of “Can’t Live Without You.” Bill Murray (who starred in “Groundhog Day”) is a security guard who stops him and kicks him out, saying, “There’s only one Buffett. It’s Jimmy Buffett.” Eventually, Warren gets in.
There were replays of skits by Chairman Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger with various TV shows and their comments about the meeting itself. “It’s a celebration,” Munger said. Said Buffett: “It gives real meaning to what we do every day.”
A video produced by daughter Susie Buffett shows mug shots of the managers of Berkshire companies, scrolling by to a customized rap tune: “The Berkshire crew’s on fire. … Berkshire Hatha-lujah.”
At another point Munger discusss his philosophy: “When you get married, you have to choose the best one that will have you. And the rest of life is the same damn way.”
Buffett’s comments to a congressional committee about a long-ago fraud case involving Solomon Brothers — long cited as a model for ethical business behavior because of his promise to be “ruthless” in dealing with illegal conduct — drew strong applause from the audience, as it always does at Berkshire meetings.
Other segments were ads — some of them 1 minute long — for American Express, Geico, Helzberg’s Jewelry, Apple, Dairy Queen, Duracell, Jordan’s Furniture, Brooks shoes, Fruit of the Loom, Smart Water, Benjamin Moore and Berkshire Hathaway Home Services.
Last updated: 11:28 am
5 months ago
Omahans get paid to save shareholders’ place in line
Jackie Boersen had never been to a Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, nor did she know much about the global conglomerate.
But she was familiar with an online app that connected task-doers with people who needed tasks done.
It was through that vehicle that the Omahan met an out-of-town Berkshire shareholder who offered triple the rate Boersen normally charged if she and friends agreed to camp out in front of the CHI Health Center, saving the shareholder places in line for coveted front-row seats at the business meeting.
“I thought: ‘Oh, hell, Why not?!’ ” Boersen said.
Sitting in lawn chairs, listening to music, snacking and playing games on their cell phones, Boersen and daughter, Kenya, and friend, Sondra Cobb, called their Saturday morning a good day’s pay and a crazy experience.
Cobb was on and off her phone trying to outsmart a random scam artist who had sent a text message seeking to squeeze money out of her. She looked around at scores of chatty shareholders talking about the “Woodstock for Capitalists” pilgrimage and why they traveled every year they could to be around like-minded investors.
“I’m figuring I’ll learn something along the way, too,” said Cobb.
Last updated: 10:06 pm
5 months ago
Crowd appears smaller this year, the first in-person shareholders meeting since 2019
Seats are filling up at the CHI Health Center for Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s first in-person shareholders meeting since 2019.
The consensus seems to be that it’s a smaller crowd this year than before the pandemic, but there are no hard figures. Past estimates of the crowd run in the 40,000 range. Today, the crowd size might be in the 25,000 range, according to a third-hand guess passed along by a auditorium staff member, unofficially and unconfirmed.
Shareholders must have credentials and vaccine proof to enter, but it doesn’t look like anyone is counting how many people walk through the doors.
With an hour to go before Chairman Warren Buffett takes the stage, there are lots of upper-deck seats open in the CHI Health Center auditorium.
Buffett has trimmed some of his annual activities, including the “newspaper toss” he used to host in the convention hall. Berkshire no longer owns newspapers. Buffett also planned to skip his pre-meeting stroll through the convention hall, although a couple of camera crews waited near his entryway, just in case he changed his mind.
In the end, the size of the Omaha crowd doesn’t particularly matter. CNBC has a stage set up for its live-streaming coverage of the meeting, watched by many more people than those present in person.
A Korean reporter from New Jersey asked about the goal of the meeting. There’s the standard requirement of a shareholders meeting. There’s the information to be passed directly to shareholders. There’s the chance to ask Buffett and his vice chairman, Charlie Munger, questions directly
But more importantly, it’s the first time in three years that Buffett’s faithful shareholders will see him, live. And for them, that’s worth a trip to Omaha.
5 months ago
17-year-old and his dad from Chicago were among first in line outside CHI Health Center
Max Hirsch was making his debut appearance at a Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting this weekend, and the 17-year-old from the Chicago area did not want to miss a thing.
So hours before the crack of dawn Saturday, he and dad Mike walked from their downtown Omaha hotel to the nearby CHI Health Center auditorium — and by 3 a.m. were among the first standing in line to hear CEO Warren Buffett, 91, and right-hand-man Charlie Munger, 98, disperse their financial pearls.
“Friends told us to get here as early as we could. I wanted to be closest to the stage,” said Max.
Doors to the stage area opened at 7 a.m. to let in the Hirsches and thousands of others from across the globe for the annual business meeting, which hasn’t been held in person with shareholders since 2019.
The pandemic also had Max staying close to home the past couple of years, and he said he hunkered down with investment books. He also bought his first Berkshire stock, a B share.
When he learned the show would go on this year, he said: “Omaha is the place to be.”
Dad Mike, a financial adviser, called the long weekend a special bonding time with his oldest of three children, who will be going off to college this year. The two got into town Thursday, went shopping Friday at the “Berkshire Bazaar of Bargains” and also plan to participate in the 5K run.
Said Max: “Talking to all the different people in line and seeing how many people come — it’s just insane.”
Last updated: 8:36 am
5 months ago
Longtime business reporter Steve Jordon returns to the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting
OMAHA — The crowds still walk along 10th Street to and from Omaha’s convention center. Some have been to the Old Market for lunch or shopping.
“Just cheap junk,” one woman says as she leaves an import boutique.
Au contraire, I think: My wife bought a beautiful outfit in that very store. Wasn’t cheap, either.
This is sort-of-post-pandemic Omaha, not like 2018, before I retired as a business writer for the Omaha World-Herald. Being the oldest (and tallest), I was more or less in charge of covering Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s annual shareholders meeting, headlined by Chairman Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger.
We had a routine of sorts: Cindy Gonzalez would check hotel vacancies and rates. Another reporter got a first-hand read on shareholders’ expectations. Other reporters wrote play-by-play live accounts or sought out nuggets of news.
I would try to figure out the latest rogue shareholder challenge to Berkshire’s operations or read the Buffett-successor tea leaves. Photographers would prowl the aisles between the company displays, looking for iconic Berkshire shareholder photos.
People laughed at my jokes
In the days leading up to the meeting, I would take part in discussion panels organized by Chinese “education” companies that brought thousands of investors to Omaha. I would talk to a university class about my experiences covering Warren Buffett, chairman. I had two slide shows, one on “The Oracle & Omaha,” the book I had written for The World-Herald, and the other on Charlie Munger, vice chairman.
People laughed at my jokes, especially the one about the frog.
When the meeting started, I would sit in the crowd with a pen, a notebook and a spare pen and make notes in the semi-darkness as a trio of experts asked Buffett and Munger questions. Shareholders got their turns at microphones around the hall. Six hours later, I headed off to The World-Herald building at 14th and Douglas Streets to write my story.
You could count on things.
In 2019 I missed the meeting, deciding that retirement meant retirement and that, this time, my daughter’s birthday was more important than hanging around Omaha for Berkshire weekend without official duties to perform.
Then two years of virus interruptions turned off the Berkshire tap. Nobody showed up at the Airbnbs that had sprouted up to counter hotels’ premium rates. Car rental companies didn’t call in extras from Kansas City. No $1 Dilly Bars in the convention hall.
All that is history.
Today they’re back: Stylishly casual money managers with sport coats and no ties. Older couples waiting to pass Berkshire shares to their descendants so they don’t have to pay capital gains taxes. Early teen shareholders seeking lessons from Buffett the Teacher. Protesters, some carrying signs and some driving panel trucks with huge video boards attached.
Fewer vendors, wider aisles
Some pandemic effects linger. The main hall has 30 vendor booths displaying Berkshire products, out of the 60 or so Berkshire operating companies. The aisles between displays are much wider (social distancing?) even though people walk within inches of each other. Some displays seem much bigger than before, since there are fewer of them.
Security is tight, but it was tight in earlier years, too. Now there’s a new requirement for entry: A vaccine card or the electronic equivalent, plus a photo ID, even if you already have shareholder credentials.
Online pre-meeting news stories ask whether this is the last in-person shareholders meeting by Buffett (91) and Munger (98). Reporters wrote similar things about Buffett’s 50th such meeting, in 2015. They wondered then what would happen to Berkshire if Buffett wasn’t there. But they wondered that in the 1960s, too. Shareholders formed a committee to contemplate such a situation.
My call: It’s a game-time decision. If Warren feels like having a meeting, it’s a go. If Charlie’s up to it, he’ll be there, too.
Buffett used to joke about Rose Blumkin working until she was 104, saying, “I’ve persuaded the (Berkshire) board to scrap our mandatory retirement-at-100 policy.”
Now I think it was no joke.
Sure, Buffett’s speaking has become more breathless over the years. Munger’s walk onto the stage has slowed, and I’ve seen him pushed in a wheelchair when he had long distances to cover in a short time.
But ask yourself a question: When it’s shareholder time, where else would Warren and Charlie rather be?
Last updated: 4:00 am
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