Buffett celebrates 50th year at Berkshire, faces tough questions

Sun May 3, 2015 4:25pm EDT
 
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By Luciana Lopez and Jonathan Stempel

OMAHA, Neb. (Reuters) - Berkshire Hathaway Inc shareholders on Saturday celebrated Warren Buffett's 50th anniversary running the conglomerate, as the billionaire expressed optimism the company would thrive over the long haul, even after he is gone.

Buffett and his second-in-command, Charlie Munger, fielded five hours of questions from shareholders, analysts and journalists at Berkshire's annual meeting, including some that criticized the business practices of firms that Berkshire owns or works with, such as Brazil's 3G Capital.

The meeting had a more festive air this year, with one of the more than 40,000 people who attended shouting out "Warren and Charlie, we love you" at the start of the main event of what Buffett calls "Woodstock for Capitalists."

"It's not Disneyland, it's Warrenland," said David Rolfe, chief investment officer of Wedgewood Partners Inc.

Berkshire holds more than 80 companies including the Burlington Northern railroad, Geico car insurance, Benjamin Moore paint, Dairy Queen ice cream, Fruit of the Loom underwear, and See's candies, and owns more than $115 billion of stocks.

Its breadth and depth, which includes $63.7 billion of cash, has given Berkshire a strong balance sheet that Buffett said will help it thrive should the economy, propped up by low interest rates that many expect to rise soon, heads south.

"We will be very willing to act if economic turbulence of any kind occurs, and will be prepared, and most people won't be," he said. He denied that Berkshire needed special regulatory oversight by possibly having become too big to fail.

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Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett (L) plays table tennis with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates during the Berkshire annual meeting weekend in Omaha, Nebraska May 3, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking