WRAPUP 2-Buffett defends Coke, BNSF at Berkshire annual meeting

Sat May 3, 2014 6:08pm EDT
 
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(Adds details from meeting throughout)

By Luciana Lopez

OMAHA, Neb. May 3 (Reuters) - Warren Buffett on Saturday defended his recent controversial vote on executive pay at Coca-Cola Co and disappointing performance at railroad BNSF, as investors grilled him on his Berkshire Hathaway Inc conglomerate at its annual shareholder meeting.

The investment guru was peppered with questions at the meeting, part of a mostly festive weekend that Buffett calls "Woodstock for Capitalists," following concerns that Berkshire last year missed Buffett's five-year growth target for the first time in his 49 years at the helm.

Buffett, 83, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 90, took the stage at a downtown Omaha arena as they faced off with the audience and a hand-picked panel often excusing recent worries at the sprawling conglomerate.

"Over any cycle we will over-perform, but there's no guarantee on that," he said. Berkshire, he said, is designed to perform best when markets are at their worst, unlike in 2013 when the Standard & Poor's 500 rose 30 percent.

Buffett was immediately questioned about Berkshire's decision to abstain from the shareholder vote on Coca-Cola's equity compensation plan for executives, even though Buffett thought the controversial plan was excessive.

That revelation drew sharp criticism in the run-up to the meeting - particularly since Buffett has in the past called options wasteful and akin to a free lottery ticket.

Seated with Munger at a table containing several bottles of Coke and Cherry Coke, Buffett said that "going to war" would likely not have been productive, and that Berkshire's abstention sent an even more effective message.   Continued...