2020 Berskshire Hathaway General Meeting of Shareholders: What to Expect

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I’ve never done this before.

Nobody did.

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting today. & nbsp; “Data-reactid =” 18 “> It is late Friday evening and I just crossed America halfway during the coronavirus epidemic, especially from Portland, Maine to Omaha, Nebraska, to attend at the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting today.

More information on the Berkshire meeting and what to expect in a minute, but let me tell you about my trip, because it was a bit of a trip.

I first tried to be as safe as possible for myself and everyone around me. Two kinds of masks, gloves, washed my hands all the time, used a hand sanitizer and distanced as much as possible.

I jumped into my car at 5 am on the hour-long trip to the Portland International Jetport, which was very quiet and cleaned. The plan was to fly United to Omaha at 7 a.m. via Chicago. At the door, there were only a handful of passengers, most of them not wearing masks, dressed in camouflage, complaining about the closure. The airline staff, however, had masks on and soon enough we were told to prepare to board. So … nothing. It turns out that a flight attendant was missing and the FAA says we need two to fly even if there were not enough passengers to form a baseball team.

Was the flight attendant sick? Who knows. (Coincidentally or not, United announced that it was not funding its employee bonus plan this morning.)

Because airlines have cut so many flights, a backup plan is tricky. My best option was to fly to Chicago at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon (I had Portland Airport almost for me for eight hours) then Minneapolis, then Omaha, arriving after 9pm.

Click here for full coverage of Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway.

The flight to Chicago carried two other passengers on an Embraer 175 which usually contains about 70. As for O’Hare, I have never, never seen it so empty. And impeccable. I’m sure I’ll never see him like that again. Then direction Minneapolis, (where the Delta Club and most of the other stores have been closed.)

I arrived in Omaha without incident, although typically OMA this Friday was filled with thousands of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, but again the airport was strangely empty. And downtown Hilton too, where there were usually big noisy crowds at the bar, but nothing tonight. (The hotel typically charges around $ 700 a night with a minimum of three nights for this weekend. This year? Rooms can be rented for $ 125.)

So what should I expect at today’s meeting?

Because of the coronavirus, of course, the event is down to basics and will be completely different from any of the previous 54 Berkshire meetings. No shareholder will be there, really nobody at all, with the exception of Warren Buffett, plus one of his senior executives, Greg Abel, and a handful of other Berkshire employees – Buffett thinks about 10 in total. (And I’ll be there too.)

leave the board and the board joins. & nbsp; “Data-reactid =” 41 “> The administrators of Berkshire will not be present either, which is notable at the very least due to a change of custody very publicized. It would have been Bill Gates ‘last annual meeting as director and former CEO of Amex Ken Chenault, the first because the first leaves the board and the second joins.

Charlie Munger isn’t coming either, which is huge, but also clever. It would be stupid – as Charlie could put it precisely – to have a nonagenarian risking his health to come up with something like that. Why? (Yes, of course, he would fly privately, but still.)

Berkshire Hathaway President and CEO Warren Buffett on the left and Vice President Charlie Munger spoke to reporters briefly last year, one day before the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting in 2019. (Photo AP / Nati Harnik)

live broadcast of the meeting (at 4 p.m. ET today), and it’s going to be a great digital event – it’s not a way to make love. “Data-reactid =” 63 “> So the Woodstock of capitalism will be entirely virtual, and honestly, even if we are delighted to be broadcasting the meeting live (at 4 p.m. ET today), and it will be an event awesome digital – it’s not a way to make love.

I feel like the head of the TV channel about to televise a Super Bowl without any fan. Of course, we prefer to have shareholders there. They bring energy and excitement. Just as the players in a football game feed on the crowd, the meeting audience brings Buffett and his meeting to life.

People often ask me what a typical Berkshire meeting looks like? Start with the fact that this is a gathering of some 40,000 of the happiest people on the planet. Of course they are! They are shareholders of Berkshire! The average net worth of these people ranges from rich in hell to billionaire. No wonder they all seem connected to the “don’t worry about Buffett life” vibe.

Have a question for the sole reporter at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting of shareholders? Ask Andy!]“Data-reactid =” 70 “>[[[[Have a question for the sole reporter at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting of shareholders? Ask Andy!]

Usually, more than 18,000 of these people enter the CHI Health Center to listen carefully to Charlie and Warren speak for about six hours (in two sessions). You must see it. They cling to each syllable. The place is so quiet that you can hear a drop of $ 1,000.

millionaires’ big shopping spree where tens of thousands of shareholders roam around the adjacent 194,000 square foot convention center filled with Berkshire merchandise – everything from boxes of See’s Candy, Brooks running shoes, bottles of Heinz custom ketchup and Fruit of the Loom underwear (often adorned with images of Warren Buffett and / or Charlie Munger) – which is as important to many as listening to Buffett dispense his wisdom. & nbsp; “Data-reactid =” 72 “> Another highlight is the great shopping madness of millionaires where tens of thousands of shareholders stroll through the adjacent 194,000 square foot convention center filled with Berkshire merchandise – everything, boxes of See’s Candy, Brooks running shoes, personalized Heinz ketchup bottles and Fruit of the Loom underwear (often adorned with images of Warren Buffett and / or Charlie Munger) – which is also important to many than listening to Buffett dispense his wisdom.

The weekend meeting is therefore an almost religious hokey and festive experience. A global meeting place for loyal value investors. It even became a singular tradition of American origin. It’s also part of Buffett’s genius. The world’s largest investor is also a master showman. A large number of people come year after year, even if nothing really changes.

Berkshire Hathaway shareholders pose with a clipping from President and CEO Warren Buffett, at the Coca Cola stand, Friday, May 3, 2019, during a shareholders’ shopping day, one day before the annual Berkshire shareholders meeting Hathaway. An estimated 40,000 people are expected to be in town for the event, where Buffett and Munger will chair the meeting and spend hours answering questions. (Photo AP / Nati Harnik)

To give you an idea of ​​the appeal it has on people, even though the event was canceled weeks ago, Berkshire officials were so worried that people would show up anyway they kept the place of the secret place. (Hint: this is a familiar place. Word to the wise: do not leave, you will not be allowed to enter.)

One thing will remain unchanged, however, is that Buffett will answer questions, albeit from a distance, so that we can always hear what he has to say. This is extremely important, especially since it is unusually silent on the coronavirus and its economic impact, so people are justifiably curious.

Berkshire exit said: “In addition to the formal business to be conducted at the meeting, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Abel will answer questions from shareholders that have been submitted to three journalists (Becky Quick, Carol Loomis and Andrew Ross Sorkin). Ms. Quick will ask the questions journalists think are the most interesting and important. [Becky will be doing this from home, as she has been doing all her CNBC broadcasting as of late. She tells me she has to bar the door to keep her kids from barging in.] Mr. Buffett and Mr. Abel will have no prior knowledge of the questions to be asked, but they will not discuss specific policies or investments. “& Nbsp; »Data-reactid =« 96 »> Here is what the Berkshire press release says:» In addition to the official work to be carried out at the meeting, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Abel will answer questions from shareholders which were submitted to three journalists (Becky Quick, Carol Loomis and Andrew Ross Sorkin). Ms. Quick will ask those questions that journalists decide are the most interesting and the most important. [Becky will be doing this from home, as she has been doing all her CNBC broadcasting as of late. She tells me she has to bar the door to keep her kids from barging in.] Mr. Buffett and Mr. Abel will have no prior knowledge of the questions to be asked, but they will not discuss specific policies or investments. “

Ah come on Warren! No politics or actions? Do not worry too much. I’m sure he will have a lot of interesting things to say. How long will the question and answer period last? Probably an hour or two. We will have to see.

I had an idea of ​​how things could go at this year’s meeting, from a letter that Buffett sent on April 13 to a number of us involved in the proceedings. Buffett’s tone was a bit melancholy, which is understandable, given that the meeting is a gigantic annual assertion in his life, and this year he couldn’t execute it properly. Let’s not kid ourselves either, there just aren’t as many meetings anymore, not with these two. (Buffett is 89 and Munger is 96.) It would be incredibly sad if this year’s non-meeting was the last for one or the other.

Typically however, Buffett ended his missive on a high note. To say that he would speak at the meeting of his sincere conviction that our children will live better than us and that America has not lost its magic. He reminded us that we have gone through much more difficult times in the past – many long-lived – and that the future we forged after leaving the tunnel has always turned out to be much brighter than what existed before. to enter the dark.

Very good prospect, I would say.

So while we’re happy to stream your meeting, Warren, and we’re happy to do so for years to come, we hope as much as you and all of Berkshire’s shareholders that you can have a real McCoy meeting the next time. year and beyond.

@serwer.“Data-reactid =” 102 “>Andy Serwer is editor in chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.

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