By Christine Idzelis
Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting will be held in person for first time since 2019
Thousands of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders are off to Omaha this weekend for what's known as "Woodstock for Capitalists," where Warren Buffett will be meeting them in person for the first time since 2019. Berkshire's annual meeting, held virtually for the past two years in the pandemic, will be streamed live Saturday.
Here are six topics to watch out for:
Maybe Berkshire Hathaway chief executive officer Buffett will address billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel's remarks earlier this month that the legendary, 91-year old investor is a top "enemy" of bitcoin and part of a "finance gerontocracy" holding back the cryptocurrency's adoption. Thiel made those remarks at the Bitcoin 2022 conference in Miami, where he also called Buffett a "sociopathic grandpa from Omaha."
Buffett has been a longtime crypto doubter, calling it "rat poison squared" in 2018, while Berkshire vice chairman Charlie Munger has offered even more direct, and not complimentary, comparisons. Crypto has soared in popularity, with Fidelity Investments announcing April 26 that it will allow investors to add a bitcoin account to their 401(k)s.
Fed fighting inflation
In May 2020, Buffett praised Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's handling of the market tumult during the COVID-19 crisis. He compared Powell with the late Paul Volcker, who as Fed chairman in the early 1980s helped tame inflation that had spiked in the 1970s. "He and Jay Powell couldn't seem more different in temperament...but Jay Powell, in my view, and the Fed board belong up there on the pedestal" with him, Buffett said in remarks at Berkshire's 2020 meeting.
This year the U.S. stock market has sunk, with investors jittery over the Fed raising interest rates to fight the hottest inflation in about four decades. The cost of living has surged in the wake of massive monetary and fiscal stimulus during the pandemic, and now, investors fear Powell risks tipping the economy into recession as he aims to bring inflation under control.
What about all that cash?
At the start of 2022, Berkshire (BRKA)(BRKA) had about $112 billion in "dry powder" that could be used for investments, acquisitions or stock buybacks, according to a note earlier this month from Morningstar senior stock analyst Greggory Warren. "Buffett's recent buying spree--including Occidental Petroleum (OXY), HP (HPQ), and Alleghany (Y)--has barely dented the conglomerate's cash balance," he wrote. "We believe the company has finally hit a nexus where it is far more focused on reducing its cash hoard through stock and bond investments and share repurchases."
Buffett, the "Oracle of Omaha" widely revered for his stock-picking prowess, will soon be auctioning off a private meal to raise money for the Glide Foundation for a final time. Glide, a California charity for the homeless, said Monday that bidding for a lunch with Buffett will open June 12. What Glide described as the "grand finale" lunch may raise questions about how much longer he intends on leading Berkshire Hathaway as CEO. He's been auctioning private meals since 2000, taking a pause for two years during the pandemic. Greg Abel, Berkshire's vice chairman in charge of non-insurance operations, is expected to be Buffett's successor.
Read:A final hurrah for Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger? Why this year's Berkshire Hathaway meeting is so special
The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the U.S., disclosed in a regulatory filing this month that it intends to vote for a Berkshire shareholder proposal that would replace Buffett as chairman. The shareholder measure calls for an independent chair on concern that corporate governance may be weakened when a single person fills both the roles of chairman and CEO.
Berkshire shareholders are once again set to challenge Buffett to step up efforts to combat climate change by doing more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a New York Times report on Monday. Buffett, who has argued that subsidiaries such as Berkshire Hathaway Energy disclose plenty about their emissions, faces a shareholder proposal asking for an overhaul of how the conglomerate views climate risks, the New York Times reported.
Berkshire will release its first-quarter earnings report Saturday morning as it kicks off its annual meeting.
Buffett's Berkshire (BRKA)(BRKA) is outperforming the beaten-up stock market this year, with its shares putting up gains so far in 2022. Berkshire's class B shares are up 10.8% this year through Thursday, while the S&P 500 index dropped 10% over the same period, FactSet data show.
Stocks fell under pressure Friday to put an ugly finish to a rough month. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 suffered their worst April performance since 1970, while the Nasdaq Composite had its worst April since 2000.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 30, 2022 09:49 ET (13:49 GMT)
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