Peace, love, and money

Just got out of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in Omaha. The meeting was enjoyable and I found it interesting and informative. 37,000 attendees were predicted but I haven’t heard a final count yet. The crowd was very well-behaved and respectful. The opening movie (1 hour long) included Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Governator and humerous commercials for BH’s companies. A The Office episode featuring Warren Buffett as new office manager was a big hit.

The meeting consisted of a one-hour movie followed by a 2.5-hour question answer session held by Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. After a one-hour break for lunch, the Q & A continued for another 2.5 hours. The official part of the meeting (motions, voting, etc) lasted less than 15 minutes at the end of the day.

Warren (80) and Charlie (87) are a fascinating pair to listen to. Charlie is very short on words, long on wisdom, and incredibly blunt. Warren holds his own and is a great public speaker. Bill Gates, BJ managers, Goldman Sachs investment bankers, and many other high net worth individuals were in attendance. Charlie started with a 1.5 lb. box of peanut brittle and was busy eating said peanut brittle constantly through the entire 5-hour Q & A session. This provided humor to all, with Charlie stating a few words, then chomping down a piece of peanut brittle. This was also the butt of a few of Warren’s jokes but Charlie didn’t seem to notice. He was too busy eating candy.

A few of the beginning questions addressed the Sokol debacle at BH, but other questions ranged from speed reading to philanthropy to personal investing inquiries to economic predictions. More questions addressed commodities and currency investing which Warren doesn’t understand, and clearly stated so. Why invest in something (the dollar) that is worth only 6% of what it was in the ‘30s? Both Warren, and especially Charlie, expressed nothing but disdain for short-term, Forex, and pure speculative trading. Charlie had nothing good to say about today’s finance education. Warren and Charlie answered more than 50 questions without a script, quite a feat given the range of questions and cultural considerations from shareholders from around the globe.

What will I take away? Being there in person was powerful; the feeling of being in the same room as Buffett, Gates, fund managers, and investment bankers is impressive. Warren and Charlie exude wisdom, ethics, and practicality in a world that is becoming less and less so, and people clamor to be in their presence. Warren has a way of explaining advanced accounting principles and their underlying strengths and weaknesses in a way that is easy to grasp. Charlie’s dry sense of humor and constant pessimism balances Warren’s unbounded sense of humor and confidence in capitalism.

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