Investors, media, and high-profile members of the investment community descended on Omaha, Nebraska, this weekend for Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting.
CEO Warren Buffett and vice chairman Charlie Munger sat on stage, and fielded questions from investors of all ages.
The event has come to be celebrated in more ways like a sporting event than a stuffy meeting of executives and the shareholders they have to answer to.
A longtime shareholder who requested anonymity submitted a question about Berkshire’s succession plans, asking if the 88-year-old Buffett and 95-year-old Munger would “ever consider having Greg and Ajit” join them on stage at future meetings so they could also be questioned about their thinking.
“That’s probably a pretty good idea, and we’ve talked about it,” Buffett responded. “We have Greg and Ajit here, and any questions that anybody wants to direct to them, it’s very easy to move them over. So we thought about having four of us up here, and this format is not set in stone at all.”
Aside from the succession plans, there were inquiries about Wells Fargo’s troubles, Buffett’s most “fun” investment, and unprofitable companies. Munger even doubled down on his view on bitcoin, and Buffett waded into politics.
And there were, of course, cans of Coca-Cola and boxes of See’s Candies peanut brittle sitting atop the executives’ table on stage.
Markets Insider has rounded up some of the big talking points from the meeting:
Berkshire’s earnings grew, but they didn’t incorporate Kraft Heinz
Berkshire Hathaway reported first-quarter earnings of $21.7 billion, reflecting massive growth from last year’s $1.1 billion first-quarter loss.
But the earnings out on Saturday excluded Kraft Heinz, whose shares plunged to a record low in February after reporting earnings.
Buffett and Munger have attributed the large swings in Berkshire’s bottom line to a newly implemented accounting rule.
Buffett and Munger weighed in on Wells Fargo’s troubles
Berkshire Hathaway is the single largest shareholder in Wells Fargo, the embattled bank still reeling from a series of scandals.
“It looks to me like Wells made some big mistakes,” Buffett said when asked about Wells Fargo’s various troubles.
“They incentivized the wrong behavior,” he added.
Munger said he wished former Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan, who left his post in late March, “was still there.”
Buffett said more broadly, while appearing not to imply Sloan, that bank CEOs who behave badly should get hit with harsher punishment.
It’s long been speculated that Ajit Jain and Greg Abel, vice chairmen of the board, will eventually take over Berkshire.
Still, Buffett made no explicit announcement or comment about succession plans when asked directly on Saturday.
“We thought about having four of us up here,” Buffett said in response to an audience question, referring to himself, Munger, Jain, and Abel.
“This format is not set in stone at all. Charlie and I are afraid of looking bad. Those guys are better than we are. You could not have two better operating manager than Greg and Ajit.”
It’s notable that Ajit answered a question at the event for the first time.
Buffett said the ‘jury is still out’ on unprofitable companies
High-growth, money-losing companies are top of mind in the investment community as unprofitable companies like Lyft, Pinterest and soon Uber debut on the stock market this year.
A shareholder brought up the topic in a question, to which Buffett said it remained unclear what the future holds for these kinds of unprofitable companies.
“I think the jury is still out on whether on which the operations to which have grown very rapidly in size but are still incurring losses how they will do over time,” Buffett said, citing Amazon’s success.
Buffett pinpointed the most ‘fun’ investment he’d ever made
Buffett responded to a young shareholder’s question about his favorite investment outside of Berkshire Hathaway.
His investment in Atled Corp., a duck-hunting club that agreed to purchase land in Louisiana, was his most “fun” investment to date.
“Atled had 98 shares and I bought one,” Buffett said.
The US won’t ‘go into socialism in 2020, 2040, or 2060,’ Buffett said
AP Images / Alex Brandon
Buffett dismissed the notion that the US would move toward a socialist system.
“I don’t think the country will go into socialism in 2020, or 2040, or 2060,” Buffett said.
The theme has been a much-talked-about feature of recent political discourse as democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have garnered mainstream attention.
“I believe we wouldn’t be sitting here except for the market system and the rule of law on some things that are embodied in this country,” he added.
Munger doubled down on his crypto hate
Munger suggested he’s no fan of digital currencies.
The vice chairman said he discovered what bitcoin investors do during their “happy hour” events after a cryptocurrency investment group invited him to join them, joking his social status had reached new heights.
Munger said he thought bitcoin investors gather to “celebrate the life and work of Judas Iscariot.”
He’s previously expressed dislike for cryptocurrencies. Last year, he called bitcoin “worthless, artificial gold.”