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Investing guru Warren Buffett draws thousands, but Charlie Munger's zingers will be missed

JOSH FUNK
May 04, 2024

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Tens of thousands of investors are expected to once again descend on an Omaha, Nebraska, arena Saturday to vacuum up tidbits of wisdom from billionaire Warren Buffett. But a key ingredient will be missing from his annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' meeting: It's the first since Vice Chairman Charlie Munger died.

"He was the sriracha sauce in the Berkshire Hathaway meeting," said investor Bill Smead, a regular at the event for 14 years. "He gave it a lot of flavor."

For decades, Munger shared the stage with Buffett every year for the marathon question and answer session that is the event's centerpiece. Munger routinely let Buffett take the lead with expansive responses that went on for several minutes. Then Munger himself would cut directly to the point. He is remembered for calling cryptocurrencies stupid, telling people to "marry the best person that will have you" and comparing many unproven internet businesses in 2000 to "turds."

He and Buffett functioned as a classic comedy duo, with Buffett offering lengthy setups to Munger's witty one-liners. Together, they transformed Berkshire from a floundering textile mill into a massive conglomerate made up of a variety of interests, from insurance companies such as Geico to BNSF railroad to several major utilities and an assortment of other companies.

Saturday is set to kick off with the company releasing its first quarter earnings a couple of hours before the meeting. In addition to its biggest interests, Berkshire Hathaway owns a vast collection of manufacturing and retail businesses, including Dairy Queen and See's Candy. Its massive stock portfolio is anchored by huge stakes in companies including Apple, American Express and Coca-Cola.

Munger often summed up the key Berkshire's success as "trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent." He and Buffett also were known for sticking to businesses they understood well.

"Warren always did at least 80% of the talking. But Charlie was a great foil," said Stansberry Research analyst Whitney Tilson, who was looking forward to his 27th consecutive meeting with a bit of a heavy heart because of Munger's absence.

That absence, however, may well create space for shareholders to better get to know the two executives who directly oversee Berkshire's companies: Ajit Jain, who manages the insurance units, and Greg Abel, who handles everything else. Abel will one day replace the 93-year-old Buffett as CEO.

Morningstar analyst Greggory Warren said he hopes Abel will speak up more this year and let shareholders see some of the brilliance Berkshire executives talk about. Ever since Munger let it slip at the annual meeting three years ago that Abel would be the successor, Buffett has repeatedly reassured investors that he's confident in the pick.

Experts say the company has a solid culture built on integrity, trust, independence and an impressive management roster ready to take over.

"Greg's a rock star," said Chris Bloomstran, president of Semper Augustus Investments Group. "The bench is deep. He won't have the same humor at the meeting. But I think we all come here to get a reminder every year to be rational."

___

For more AP coverage of Warren Buffett look here: https://apnews.com/hub/warren-buffett. For Berkshire Hathaway news, see here: https://apnews.com/hub/berkshire-hathaway-inc. Follow Josh Funk online at https://www.twitter.com/funkwrite and https://www.linkedin.com/in/funkwrite.

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