Buffett says the growth in the stock's book value — the company's assets minus liabilities — has outpaced the Standard & Poor's 500 index in all but eight years since 1965 while delivering a compounded annual return of almost 20 percent. In recent years, Buffett has repeatedly warned investors not to expect that type of return in the future because Berkshire's size makes it nearly impossible to keep growing at that rate.
That's fine with George Jensen and his wife, Setara Jensen, who bought Berkshire stock as a stable option in retirement. The Jensens traveled from Hong Kong to attend the shareholder meeting and visit friends from when Jensen worked for Union Pacific railroad before retiring.
"We bought it because it's a good value," Jensen said. "There are certainly things that might have a higher rate of return, but at this stage, we wanted something safe and stable."
Buffett said that he recently was negotiating a $22 billion acquisition that didn't work out. He wouldn't disclose the details, but he used the transaction as an example of the biggest acquisition Berkshire would make right now.
The company acquired Burlington Northern railroad in 2010 in a cash-and-stock deal valued at $26.7 billion that was Berkshire's biggest acquisition ever. Buffett has always hated using stock in acquisitions, and he said Saturday that he now thinks it was a mistake to do so in the BNSF deal even though he is glad Berkshire owns the railroad.
Buffett also defended Berkshire's purchase last year of the Omaha World-Herald Co. He said even though he has highlighted the challenges newspapers face, the deal still made sense for Berkshire, which already owned the Buffalo News and a large stake in the Washington Post Co. Newspapers are usually still the primary source of local information, and that's an advantage in places where community is important, he said.
Buffett also defended political comments he has made while supporting President Barack Obama and lobbying for higher taxes on wealthy investors like him.
"When Charlie and I took this job, we did not agree to put our citizenship in a blind trust," Buffett said.
Buffett always plays the role of Berkshire's chief marketing officer at the annual meeting by showcasing products made by the company that are being sold in the 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall. On Saturday, he revived the newspaper tossing skills of his youth, promising anyone who can throw a folded Omaha World-Herald — one of Berkshire's latest acquisitions — closer to the porch than him, a Dilly bar from Dairy Queen.
As Buffett roamed the exhibit hall, shareholders mobbed him, trying to take pictures with their cellphones. He spent time singing "There is No Place Like Nebraska" with the University of Nebraska's cheerleaders at the Justin Boots stage before checking out the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and BYD electric car displays.
The resolution submitted by the AFL-CIO to require updates on how the company would replace Buffett attracted about 32,000 votes while 672,000 votes were cast against the idea. The board and Buffett had opposed the idea.
The labor union's Ken Maas said the group didn't want Berkshire to publicly identify the 81-year-old Buffett's successor. It just wanted an annual update on the planning.
Buffett said he doesn't see any need to create a formal report on succession planning because he talks about it in his annual letter to shareholders and in interviews. Plus, the subject regularly comes up at the annual meetings.
"We spend more time on that subject than any other subject that might come before the board," Buffett said.
Buffett has said Berkshire plans to split his chairman and CEO job into three parts with a chief executive, a chairman and several investment managers.
Buffett has said he believes his son Howard, who already serves on Berkshire's board, would make an ideal chairman.