As most of you know, I have been a long time admirer of Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger and Berkshire Hathaway. I am also pleased to report that our two funds have been long time Berkshire shareholders. I recently returned from the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting in Omaha. This year was the 50th anniversary of Warren Buffett taking control of the company. It was my 25th consecutive year of attending the meeting. What is it that draws me to Omaha for the meeting on the first Saturday in May each year?
Let me start with a quick review of Berkshire’s long term investment performance record. To put it simply, it is amazing! Since taking charge in 1965, the overall gain in Berkshire’s book value per share under Warren’s stewardship has been an incredible 751,113%. The share price has done even better advancing by 1,826,163%. On a compounded annual basis these gains represent 19.4% and 21.6% respectively over 50 years. By way of comparison, over the same time period, the S&P 500 Index recorded a highly respectable 11,196% overall gain or 9.9% on an annual compounded basis. These numbers clearly demonstrate the benefits of both skill and time in achieving outsized investment results.
While the meeting format and venue have changed over the years, the meeting has been held at the Century Link Center in downtown Omaha since 2004. The routine is as follows…….I arrive outside the arena at 5:15 am so that I can be sure to get a good seat when the doors to the Century Link Center open at 7:00 am. With over 40,000 now attending, this is not an easy task. Interestingly enough, growth in attendance at the annual meeting has modestly out compounded the share price over the last 25 years! After getting my seat and perhaps saving a few for others, I go to the exhibitor area to see the displays and buy merchandise from the Berkshire subsidiary companies. See’s Candies and Warren and Charlie’s book recommendations are perennial favorites of mine! After shopping, it is back to my seat in time for the company movie which begins at 8:30 am. The movie is a montage of commercials from the various Berkshire investments and subsidiaries as well as some Berkshire skits involving Warren and Charlie and well known celebrities including Hollywood actors and famous athletes. Let’s just say that Charlie always gets the girl in the end! Each year, there is also an animated feature involving Charlie and Warren as some new iteration of superheroes saving civilization or at least investors!
All this is just the warm up act to the main show which begins at 9:30 am when Warren and Charlie take the stage to answer questions from a panel of journalists and analysts as well as shareholders for the next two and a half hours until noon. A second two and half hour session begins at 1 p.m. after a break for a quick lunch and perhaps more shopping. I ask you to bear in mind that Warren and Charlie are 84 years and 91 years young this year. Their energy and intellectual prowess is amazing if not their diet. They happily consume several boxes of See’s Candies and several bottles of Coca-Cola products during their time on stage.
All this would make it more than worth the time and cost to undertake the pilgrimage to Omaha each year but my time in Omaha is about so much more than the meeting. It is a chance for me to interact in a relaxed environment with many of the world’s greatest investors. For example, our investment in Markel Corporation directly traces to Omaha when I met future Markel President & Chief Investment Officer Tom Gayner at my very first Berkshire Hathaway meeting. It was his first meeting also! I am not going to name others, but I have been able to develop a great network of investment contacts and wonderful friends as a result of my annual pilgrimage to Omaha. This network has helped immeasurably over the years with sage advice, wonderful investment discussion and moral support during difficult times. I can only hope that I have been half as helpful to them over the years as they have been to me. Twenty five years is a long time but I have to tell you the time has just flown by. I have benefited enormously as a result of my annual journey to Omaha and I know that I am a better investor and person because of it. As the old expression goes……”Same Time Next Year”.
“Above the Fray” is a regular blog written by Jeffrey Stacey, Chairman and CEO of Stacey Muirhead Capital Management Ltd., which discusses items of interest related to investing, finance and business. This is not a solicitation.