The Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting took place this past weekend in Omaha, Nebraska. Here are some of the biggest takeaways (according to articles from The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and The Motley Fool):
Berkshire’s “investment edge” transcends Buffett and Munger: Buffett believes that the reputation of Berkshire Hathaway stands on its own and will endure after he and partner Charlie Munger retire. He noted that Ted Wechsler and Todd Combs, portfolio managers who reportedly oversee more than $25 billion of capital for Berkshire, have already played a significant role in sourcing and negotiating deals on Berkshire’s behalf.
Bitcoin: Buffett was unfettered in his opinion on the cryptocurrency, describing it as, “probably rat poison squared.” He said, “The asset itself is creating nothing,” adding, “When you’re buying nonproductive assets, all you’re counting on is the next person is going to pay you more because they’re even more excited about another next person coming along.” During Saturday’s meeting, Munger weighed in that trading in cryptocurrencies is “just dementia.”
On trade and China: Buffett said he believes the U.S. and China share common interests and, despite inevitable tensions, stand to gain by working together.
Wells Fargo: Although recent scandals have tarnished the bank’s reputation, Buffett stands by what he described as “America’s largest community bank,” adding, “I see no reason to think that Wells Fargo—going forward—is other than a very, very large well-run bank that had an episode of its history.” He cited the examples of GEICO and American Express, each of which had missteps which led the companies to stronger performance.
Berkshire’s cash reserves: Berkshire maintains hefty cash balances (to the tune of $108 billion at the end of the first quarter), but Buffett said at the meeting that if he were to distribute any cash to shareholders, he would prefer to do it in the form of stock buybacks rather than dividends. He prefers, he said, to keep about $20 billion in the coffers as a “rainy day fund” for insurance losses.
Insurance business: Berkshire’s insurance businesses, according to a Motley Fool article, “may have the most formidable moat to insulate them from competition.” Buffett said that Berkshire is in a better position than any other insurer to absorb large losses, “making it a go-to place for large and complex risks.”
Cyber threats: Buffett said that the cyber landscape is “uncharted territory and it’s going to get worse, not better.”