Warren Buffett opened Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting on Saturday with an upbeat assessment of the US recovery from the pandemic, saying business was “very good” in parts of the economy.
In his annual address to Berkshire shareholders, the doyen of the investing world, aged 90, said US capitalism “has worked unbelievably well”.
“This has been a very unusual recession,” Buffett said. “Right now business really is very good in a great many segments of the economy . . . but there are still problems if you’re in a few types of business that have really been decimated.”
He spent the first part of the meeting before opening to questions running shareholders through lists of the 20 most valuable global companies, both in 2021 and in 1989.
“We had a map for the future, an aspirational map that somehow now only 232 years later leaves us with five of the top six companies in the world,” he said. “That’s not an accident and it is not because we were way smarter or way stronger, or anything of the sort.”
But he cautioned that “the world can change in very, very dramatic ways,” as he pointed to the 1989 list, which was dominated by Japanese groups.
The day is a departure from what Berkshire shareholders could expect before the pandemic forced the company to a virtual format. Buffett was joined this year by his longtime business partner and Berkshire vice-chair Charlie Munger, as well as Greg Abel and Ajit Jain, the two men tipped by shareholders as potential successors.
The event is expected to remain a restrained affair, without the throngs of investors who descended on Omaha for the annual meeting or the star-studded investor video that in the past has included Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul of TV’s Breaking Bad and Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute from the US version of The Office.
The four men are instead speaking in Los Angeles, where Munger lives, and are slated to take roughly three and a half hours of questions before the board calls the start of the day’s official business.
Investors still have hours to wait before they will hear the outcome on perhaps the day’s most important agenda items: how shareholders have voted on two stockholder proposals that would push Berkshire to disclose its efforts to tackle climate change and diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
Berkshire’s board has advised shareholders to vote down the two proposals, drawing rebukes from some. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System and asset manager Neuberger Berman have said they will withhold votes from several directors up for re-election to the company’s board on Saturday.
Others, including one of the company’s largest shareholders — Norges Bank — have endorsed the two shareholder proposals. The proposals nonetheless face an uphill battle, given the company’s dual-class structure and Buffett’s large holding of its high-vote stock.
Ron Olson, a Berkshire director and partner at law firm Munger Tolles & Olson, told Yahoo Finance on Saturday that he expected that the two proposals would be defeated.
Earlier in the day, the company said it had swung to a profit of $11.7bn, or $7,638 per class A share, from a loss a year earlier of $49.7bn, or $30,653 a share.