OMAHA, Neb., April 28 (Reuters) – Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) will hold its in-person annual shareholder meeting on Saturday for the first time since before the pandemic, but the extravaganza dubbed “Woodstock for Capitalists” are likely to see fewer crowds and more streamlined events.
Buffett, 91, chairman and CEO of Berkshire, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 98, will take shareholder questions for about five hours when the meeting is held in Omaha, Nebraska.
Shareholders will likely address issues like recent investments, still-bloated cash, stock buybacks, rising inflation and supply chain disruptions, and even if anyone other than Buffett should preside over the company. Read more
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They will be joined by vice presidents Greg Abel, Buffett’s designated successor as CEO, and Ajit Jain.
Many shareholders, however, are not limited to the meeting.
Events around town over three days include a 5k (3.11 mile) run, shareholder buys from dozens of Berkshire-owned businesses in the downtown CHI Health Center arena where held the meeting and several private investment conferences.
“You sell as fast as the cash register will ring,” said Phillip Black, co-owner of the Bookworm, the only non-Berkshire company selling in the arena. He said weekend sales have topped $100,000 in recent years. “You’re pretty happy when it’s over so you can rest a bit.”
Still, shareholders will notice changes, in addition to needing proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to attend events.
Berkshire expects attendance to be “considerably lower” than the 40,000 people, many from overseas, common at recent meetings. The 2019 meeting, the last in-person meeting before the pandemic, added $21.3 million to Omaha’s economy.
“I attended for 25 straight years before COVID,” said James Armstrong, principal of Henry H. Armstrong Associates in Pittsburgh. “But I’m just not going to make the trip. I’m not flying much yet.”
Occupancy rates at Omaha-area’s 15,608 hotel rooms, as measured by data firm STR Inc, may be below the typical 90-95%, with more rooms at lower rates that attract late travelers.
Borsheims will not set up its familiar outdoor tent with live entertainment and an assortment of buffets at the mall housing the Berkshire-owned jeweler, although cocktails are available.
And a shareholder favorite — the newspaper raffle where Buffett demonstrated skills he once used as a paperboy — has been dropped.
Armstrong, like many others, plans to watch the meeting online at cnbc.com. Berkshire’s first webcast meetings in 2016.
Still, the weekend is expected to add several million dollars to Berkshire’s coffers nonetheless.
Shareholders can purchase a pontoon boat from Berkshire’s Forest River unit designed by “Margaritaville” singer Jimmy Buffett (no link).
Thrifty shoppers can once again spend $5 at Oriental Trading for the Buffett and Munger cherubic rubber duckies. And those who don’t diet can swallow the 21,085 pounds (9,564 kg) of crunchy peanuts and other goodies that See’s Candies brings.
Deborah Ward, executive director of Visit Omaha, said “the energy in the city was lost” when Berkshire moved its 2020 and 2021 shareholder meetings online.
“It will be nice to get that energy back,” she said. “Being associated with Berkshire helps the Omaha brand a lot. Warren Buffett could live anywhere in the world. He chose to live here.”
David Brown, who is retiring next week after 19 years as head of the Greater Omaha House, said many businesses unaffiliated with Berkshire are scheduling events around the weekend.
“Berkshire has been the annual Super Bowl of business for us,” he said. “That means they fill bars, restaurants and shops. You can feel the lift that gives.”
Marta Keller, general manager of M’s Pub in the town centre, said some customers in Berkshire book a year in advance. M’s creates a special menu for them.
“There will be a ribeye, a beef tenderloin. Everyone talks about Nebraska like beef,” Keller said. “We keep it simple, but we try to be creative because food has gotten so expensive.”
At Bookworm, all books have Buffett’s seal of approval.
New this year are Nancy Rips’ “My New Berkshire ABC” update for kids (A is for Apple, a big investment in Berkshire), and a book about Berkshire’s evolution from a factory. a failing textile company that Buffett finally shut down in 1985, twenty years after it ended.
“Mr. Buffett enjoys educating shareholders,” Black said. “It will show how he invested his capital in something that was really not good and reallocated it more productively.”
Borsheims chief executive Karen Goracke said the jeweler sells as much during the week as it does during the Christmas season. She and other CEOs of Berkshire companies will dine together again this weekend.
“I saw Warren about a week ago,” Goracke said this week. “He’s in good spirits and just happy to have the meeting in person again. He loves doing it. He’s energized by it.”
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Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Carolina Mandl in Omaha, Nebraska; edited by Megan Davies and Diane Craft
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