By Jonathan Stempel and Carolina Mandl
OMAHA, Neb. (Reuters) -Shareholders lined up early for Berkshire Hathaway Inc’s hotly-anticipated annual shareholder meeting, being held in person on Saturday for the first time since before the pandemic, where they will have the chance to quiz Warren Buffett on everything from corporate governance, potential new investments and his views on the economy.
Buffett, 91, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 98, will answer shareholder questions for roughly five hours when the meeting convenes in Omaha, Nebraska. Joining them will be Vice Chairmen Greg Abel, Buffett’s designated successor as CEO, and Ajit Jain.
Before doors opened at 7 a.m. CDT (1200 GMT), thousands of people massed outside the CHI Health Center arena in downtown Omaha, where they could talk with other Berkshire devotees.
“I bought a chair from Walmart so I could sit down,” said Tom Spain, founder of Henry Spain Investment Services in Market Harborough, England, who arrived at 3:15 a.m. CDT to attend his third meeting. “Everyone has been using it. Next year I might bring a massive container of coffee and give it out.”
Lauritz Fenselau, a 23-year-old owner of a software startup from Frankfurt, Germany, showed up at 4 a.m. CDT for his first meeting.
“Warren and Charlie are the priests. It’s like a pilgrimage,” he said. “I took three flights and 16 hours to get here, so I wanted to be here early.”
Andres Avila from Boston, a huge fan of Buffett, arrived at Berkshire Hathaway’s hometown just five hours before the meeting. It left him with almost no time to sleep before the meeting, as he wanted to get in line at 4:45 a.m. CDT.
“I said: I’m already doing the trip for this. I just might as well get the best seat I can”, said Avila, holding a big umbrella as it was raining at dawn. “I have a bunch of my idols here.”
Ahead of the meeting, Berkshire reported its earnings. That showed Berkshire dove into equity markets in the first quarter, spending more than $51 billion on stocks including a much larger stake in Chevron Corp.
The meeting may address issues such as recent investments, a still-swollen cash pile, share buybacks, rising inflation and supply chain disruptions, and even whether someone other than Buffett should chair the company.
Some investors have begun to increase pressure on the conglomerate, which spans businesses from insurance to energy to candy. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, and other investors are demanding that Berkshire replace Buffett with an independent chair, and disclose how its dozens of businesses promote diversity and address climate risks and mitigation. Buffett would remain chief executive officer.
Many shareholders, however, attend for more than just the annual meeting.
Events around the city over three days include a 5-km run, shareholder shopping from dozens of Berkshire-owned businesses at the downtown CHI Health Center arena where the meeting takes place, and several private investing conferences.
Berkshire has been expecting attendance to be “considerably less” than the 40,000, many from overseas, common to recent meetings. The 2019 meeting, the last in-person meeting before the pandemic, added $21.3 million to Omaha’s economy.
The meeting will be broadcast online at cnbc.com https://www.cnbc.com/brklive22. Berkshire https://www.berkshirehathaway.com first webcast meetings in 2016.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Carolina Mandl in Omaha, Nebraska; editing by Megan Davies, Ros Russell and Diane Craft)