May 28, 2024

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is hosting its annual shareholders meeting this Friday through Sunday. The conference, dubbed “Woodstock for Capitalists” by its fans, is a three-day event hosted in Buffett’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. It’s full of luxurious experiences for Berkshire shareholders, including cocktails, shopping for exclusive jewelry and furniture from top designers, and lots of Dairy Queen (which is owned by Berkshire).

But shareholders come for more than just the enticing perks. They wait all year to attend the highly-watched conference for a chance to hear directly from Buffett, known as the Oracle of Omaha.

This year, Berkshire vice chairs Ajit Jain and Greg Abel will field questions during Saturday’s morning question-and-answer session, while Abel and Buffett himself will take the afternoon shift. In a statement, Buffett said that the three men “will not get so much as a clue about the questions to be asked.”

“We know you… will pick some tough ones and that’s the way we like it,” he said.

The multinational business conglomerate has been headed by Buffett since 1970, and owns a wide portfolio of businesses mainly in the insurance, rail transportation, energy, manufacturing, and retail sectors. It also has significant holdings in a number of major consumer brands, including Kraft Heinz, American Express, Bank of America, and Coca-Cola.

Berkshire has posted year-to-date total returns of almost 12%, outperforming the S&P 500’s total returns of almost 8%.

Here are three things to watch at this year’s event.

Buffett’s views on the economy, AI, and more

During past Berkshire conferences, Buffett has touched on some of the hottest topics of the year, from the regional banking crisis to U.S.-China economic tensions and Bitcoin.

This year, Buffett has said that questions about what stocks Berkshire is buying and selling — despite that being public information — are off the table for discussion. So is politics.

Nevertheless, investors will likely want a glimpse into the Oracle’s views on the wars in the Gaza Strip and Ukraine, interest rates, and other policy issues are relevant to Berkshire’s business and the wider economy.

Read more: Warren Buffett doesn’t trust pundits and more takeaways from his annual note to shareholders

While he likely won’t comment on something as concrete as who he’s voting for in the year’s presidential election, there’s a good chance some policy discussion will make it into the Q&A session.

There may also be questions about artificial intelligence and tech stocks, given Berkshire’s outsize holdings in Apple, Amazon, and cloud data-warehousing firm Snowflake.

Mainly, people just like to hear what Buffett thinks about whatever he’s thinking about. Whether that’s life lessons or investment insights, when Buffett talks, investors listen.

Buffett’s hand-picked successor in the spotlight

Abel, who serves as chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Energy and vice-chairman of non-insurance operations, is in line to succeed the 93-year-old Buffett as CEO.

The Canadian businessman was tapped as heir apparent in 2021, when Buffett told CNBC that if something were to happen to him that night, the board of directors was in agreement that “it would be Greg who’d take over tomorrow morning.”

Abel will have a starring role this year, appearing at both Q&A sessions.

During last year’s conference, the late Charlie Munger heaped praise on Abel, calling him “sensational at being a business leader, both as a thinker and as a doer.”

“There’s some things he’s better at than Warren is, and Warren knows that, and he just keeps dumping on Greg everything that Greg can do better, and that’s a lot,” Munger said.

A Charlie Munger-sized absence

This is the first annual Berkshire shareholders meeting without Buffett’s right-hand business partner and friend, Charlie Munger. Munger served as vice chairman of Berkshire since 1978. He died in November, just weeks before his 100th birthday.

Guests would often look forward to the pair’s anecdotes and humor — both business-related and not — which tended to be a highlight of the annual conference.

One long-time conference attendee told The Wall Street Journal that this year’s meeting will have “an empty-chair feeling” to it without Munger.

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