Warren Buffett and his longtime business partner Charlie Munger have been addressing investors worldwide at the Berkshire Hathaway Inc (NYSE: BRK-A)(NYSE: BRK-B) 2021 shareholders meeting, being livestreamed by Yahoo Finance.
Here are some highlights.
The Long View: Buffett kicked things off with some looking back at how the market has changed over the past 30 years. He held up slides showing the largest 20 companies by market capitalization now and in 1989, noting that all company names are different. Buffett’s point was on the intransient nature of business and how that makes it hard to pick stocks.
“Look at the top 20 [companies] from 1989,” Buffett said. “There’s two things that should grab your interest: None of the 20 from 30 years ago are on the present list — zero. There were then 6 U.S. companies on the list; none made it to the list 30 years later.”
But given how much bigger the market cap numbers are between then and now, there’s also a “great argument for index funds” in there, he said, noting that a lot of inflation has not marked this long period.
“The main thing is to be aboard a ship,” Buffett said. “Overall, equities were absolutely the place to be.”
Unexpected Effectiveness Of Pandemic Policy: Buffett and Munger were pressed to explain why Berkshire didn’t buy more stocks at the market’s low point last year. Buffett said it was hard to predict how effective the Federal Reserve and U.S. government’s monetary and fiscal policies would be in light of how such policies undershot the 2008-2009 recession.
“The economy went off a cliff in March, and it was resurrected in an extraordinarily effective way by Federal Reserve actions and later on the fiscal front by Congress,” Buffett said. “Our businesses have done quite well. This has been a very, very, very unusual recession.”
Buffett went on to say of the Fed and government response: “I didn’t think it was a sure thing it would get done. It worked better than just about anybody’s expected.”
He also said Berkshire could have done things better but that it “would have sold airlines and cut back on banks regardless.”
Buffett later added that “this is the most interesting movie we’ve ever seen,” speaking about the pandemic economy.
Airline Stock Selloff: Buffett also was asked about the big news from last year’s meeting, over Berkshire’s selling off of airline stocks. Berkshire Hathaway was one of the largest shareholders of several airlines, and had dramatically boosted its holdings in Delta Air Lines, Inc (NYSE: DAL) after the coronavirus pandemic started. That fueled some speculation Buffett could step in again with major investments in one or more of the airlines, or possibly even buy one.
“I’m the chief risk officer. We want to do well, but we want to make sure we don’t do terribly,” Buffett said today, pointing to the uncertainty of the early months of 2020.
Buffett went to say that the government assistance airlines received after Berkshire sold would have made for a bad PR situation for the airlines, as headlines would have asked why Berkshire, with its deep pockets, couldn’t pony up the funds. That alone might have been enough to kill any government assistance for airlines, he said.
“I think the airline business’s done better because we sold,” Warren Buffett says. “I wish them well. … We’ve still got a big investment in air travel, a big commitment to it, but we wish the big four the best.”
Berkshire still has exposure to business travel through holdings of American Express Company (NYSE: AXP) and aviation parts maker Precision Castparts Corp, Buffett noted.
Munger on Modern Monetary Theory: “(MMT proponents) are more confident than they ought to be,” Munger said. “I do think there’s a good chance that this extreme conduct is more feasible than everybody thought. But I do know if you keep just doing it without any limit, it will end in disaster.”
Why Did Berkshire Sell Apple? “That was probably a mistake. Charlie in his usual low-key way let me know it was a mistake too, but Steve Jobs couldn’t do what Tim Cook has done in many respects,” Buffett said.
Annual Event: The shareholder meeting is a major event among investors and traders who seek nuggets of wisdom from Buffett and Munger.
Buffett and Munger appeared by video from Los Angeles. This meeting was a reunion for Buffett and Munger after the two were split up last year by the pandemic.
Earlier in the day, Berkshire Hathaway Inc reported close to $12 billion profit in the first quarter as the value of its investment portfolio rebounded.
The company bought back $6.6 billion of Berkshire shares, after a record $24.7 billion in buybacks last year. The company recorded $9 billion in share buybacks in its fourth quarter.
Buffett has run Berkshire Hathaway since 1965. Berkshire Hathaway wholly owns over 60 companies, including Geico and Dairy Queen, and holds minority stakes in JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) and Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), among others. He has a net worth of $102.8 billion.
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