First 2-4 days of May are marked down on most investors calendars – whether you are a trader or a long term investor, this is the time when the Berkshire Annual meet is held at Omaha. Tens of thousands of people, the huge shareholder milieu attends this ‘show’ as it’s a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for many to see and hear the Oracle of Omaha – Warren Buffett.
This time of the year is a huge ‘tourist’ event for the city as shareholders flood the local hotels and restaurants. But this year, the virus has hit this annual event too and according to the city’s tourism bureau, the economic impact was placed roughly at $21 million. This year’s annual meet, like everything else was live-streamed and everyone heard and saw Buffett from the confines of their homes. It was an unusual meeting but Buffett was his usual self and continued to inspire one and all.
The ‘meet’ was live for four hours and Buffett was joined on ‘stage’ by Greg Abel while Charlie Munger remained in his home in California and did not participate in the meet.
Buffett first said what we all felt, “It doesn’t look like an annual meeting, it certainly doesn’t feel like an annual meeting.” Well, so much of the normal that we know as life is changing and all are trying to adapt to the ‘new normal.’
What we also learnt is that Berkshire has sold off its entire aviation portfolio, that too at a loss. Berkshire had around 10% stake each in Delta Airlines, SW Airlines, United Airlines and American Airlines. Buffett said that the virus has changed his thesis on the industry, noting that the crisis was no fault of the airlines themselves or their management teams.
A quick look at the highlights of Buffett nuggets of wisdom at this meet:
We need to be humble in forecasting the future given the wide range of potential outcomes, and to listen to experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Bill Gates.
In school I did O.K. in accounting, but I was a disaster in biology. I’m learning about this the same way that you are...There’s an extraordinarily wide range of possibilities on the health and economy sides and nobody really knows.
I’m convinced nothing can stop America. We haven’t faced this particular problem in the past...but America will prevail again.
The operating earnings for the first quarter have little meaning for forecasting the next year.
I don’t know the consequences of shutting down the U.S. economy...For some period—certainly during the balance of the year but maybe much longer—our operating earnings will be considerably less than if the virus had never come along.
On Munger, he said, “He's added Zoom to his repertoire. He's just skipped right by me technologically. Like stepping over a peanut.”
On the virus, he said, “the range of possibilities is still extraordinarily wide. We do not know what exactly happens when you shut down a substantial portion of your society."
When something like the current pandemic happens, it's hard to factor that in and that's why you never want to use borrowed money to buy into investments.
Equities are an enormously sound investment, that will outperform US Treasuries and the money people have stashed under their mattresses over time.
Fear is the most contagious disease you can imagine, makes the virus look like a piker.
The amount of litigation that is going to be generated out of what has already happened, much less what is still to happen, is going to be huge.
Buffett wrote to Jain’s father a few years after he joined Berkshire to say, "If you've got another son like this, send him over from India, and we'll rule the world."
Be careful. The worst is unlikely to be behind us and caution will serve you well in preserving and growing your wealth.