Buffett, 91, answered questions for five hours at the highly anticipated annual meeting of shareholders of his holding company Berkshire Hathaway in Omaha, Nebraska, his first in-person meeting since before the Covid-19 pandemic. He did it with his right arm Charlie Munger, who is 98 years old.
The event, dubbed “Woodstock for Capitalists,” draws thousands of shareholders from around the world to hear the investment wisdom of Buffett, revered among investors as the “Oracle of Omaha.”
As markets wobbled year-to-date, Berkshire Hathaway spotted bargains and bought more than $51 billion worth of stock from January through March.
For example, it increased its investment in oil company Chevron from $4.5 billion at the end of 2021 to $26 billion at the end of March. Chevron is now one of the holding company‘s top four investments, along with American Express, Apple and Bank of America. Berkshire Hathaway also acquired a 14% stake in Occidental Petroleum.
It also bought an 11% stake in computer maker HP and increased its stake in video game maker Activision – which is being acquired by Microsoft – to 9.5%.
Berkshire sold shares worth $10 billion during the same period from January to March.
Ultimately, Berkshire’s war chest grew from $147 billion to $106 billion.
But Buffett said investors need not worry because Berkshire “will always have plenty of cash” to weather the tough times.
Vice Chairman Greg Abel — at 59, he is Buffett’s designated successor — and company executive Ajit Jain joined him and Munger on the podium.
Buffett took a beating on Wall Street, saying, “They make a lot more money when people gamble than when they invest.”
He said the fact that his company acquired 14% of Occidental Petroleum in just two weeks shows that “the overwhelming majority of large American companies have become poker chips.”
About cryptocurrencies, he said: “Will it go up or down next year or in five or 10 years, I don’t know. But the one thing I’m pretty sure about is is that it does nothing.”
The issue of succession at Berkshire Hathaway is significant because of Buffett and Munger’s ages, but neither has said anything about retirement.
Ahead of the meeting, Berkshire said its net profit fell 53% in the first quarter due to a drop in the paper value of its investments.
Berkshire reported net profits of $5.5 billion, down sharply from $11.7 billion in the year-ago period.
Operating profits for companies owned by the conglomerate — ranging from insurance companies to energy providers and even frozen desserts — remained essentially unchanged, at $7.04 billion.
A drop in profits for insurance companies was offset by profits for rail lines, energy companies, manufacturing, services and retail sales, according to a statement from Berkshire Hathaway.
But the value of his investments, which can be volatile from quarter to quarter, plunged amid the year’s market weakness, leading to a paper loss of $1.58 billion.
Buffett regularly advises his shareholders to ignore quarterly fluctuations, whether positive or negative.
The value of Berkshire shares themselves have held up well – up 7% year-to-date, while the S&P 500 index, representing the 500 largest companies listed on Wall Street, has lost more than 13 %.