Shareholder annual meetings are not fun. Unless a company is under fire from dissident shareholders or quirky gadfly investors, these confabs aren’t anyone’s idea of a big time.
Then there’s this Saturday’s Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, starring Charlie Munger, the vice chair, and Warren Buffett, the CEO and chairman, taking questions and dispensing the kind of quirky brilliance his investors love. The annual meeting this year is due to attract 40,000 investors to the CHI Health Center auditorium, drawing from investors around the world. Some call it “Woodstock for Capitalists.”
For the fourth year, Yahoo Finance is live-streaming the whole thing. It’s hosted by editor-in-chief Andy Serwer and Yahoo Finance on-air hosts Jen Rogers and Myles Udland, with correspondents Julia LaRoche and Javier David in the field. The coverage begins at 9:45 in the morning and concludes at 5:30 pm.
The stream has gotten to be a major event for Yahoo Finance, which claims it snared 11.5 million streams in 2016 and 17 million in 2017, testament not only to the increase in streaming but to the popularity of Buffett. Yahoo Finance is now a part of Verizon, and the event is also a rich advertising opportunity for Verizon’s ad platforms.
Things have just gone up and up since Yahoo Finance began streaming the event.
“Last year we had 35 million people, from around the world, tune into the Yahoo Finance livestream,” Serwer said in an email conversation. “More people tuned in to watch Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger live than the 2019 Oscars. There’s clearly a huge appetite for the chance to hear directly from such legendary investors.”
The shareholder meeting is a different kind of business event.
Investors in the audience range from Nebraska farmers to Wall Street and Chinese financiers.
The weekend in Omaha is a trip, with special events for shareholders all over town. “There’s quite a bit of novelty around Berkshire Hathaway-related shopping. It’s a big weekend for the city,” Serwer said. “A lot of events and parties. There’s even a [5K] race the day following the shareholders meeting that makes its way through downtown. I’ve done it for the past several years.”
This year, there may be some special questions for Buffett about the company’s investments in Wells Fargo, Kraft Heinz and Coca-Cola, all in the midst of downturns. In addition, Berkshire Hathaway is up only about 6% so far this year, compared to about an 18% gain for the S&P 500.
So there may be some real news at this meeting. “For sure we call ball and strikes when we cover the meeting.” Serwer. "And Buffett understands that. He understands the media’s role in attending and reporting on the meeting.”
But it seems Buffett and Munger can get just as caught up in the hoopla as the shareholders who wouldn’t miss this meeting for the world.
Serwer recalled, “Last year, during one of the breaks I was interviewing Glenn Close — who is a huge Warren Buffett fan, by the way. We had just a few minutes to speak with Glenn before Buffett and Munger returned to the stage.
"The conversation continued, and I was surprised our producer hadn’t given us the signal to wrap yet. But we were live, so I had to keep the conversation flowing and couldn’t stop to inquire about the delay.”
That interview stretched to 15 minutes, he said, until Buffett and Munger reappeared on stage.
“Guess what the delay was?” Serwer continued. “They were enjoying our interview with Ms. Close so much they didn’t want the break to end! Crazy, right? We couldn’t stop the interview until Munger and Buffett came on stage, and they wouldn’t come on stage until we were done interviewing Glenn. Someone had to make them come back on.”