Stars and Swag: The Most Fun Annual Meetings Everhttp://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/10/11/stars-and-swag-the-most-fun-annual-meetings-ever.aspx AnnaLisa Kraft
October 11, 2013
Annual shareholder meetings give investors rare access to company executives, a chance to voice concerns, and insight into companies that can't be found in annual reports or earnings calls. Mostly, they're yawn-inducing. But these rare few are a blast.
The Buffett lovefest
Buffett himself mans Berkshire subsidiary booths -- in 2012, at jeweler Borsheims' booth, he advised customers to ask for the "Crazy Warren price." Buffett has written," Anyone who says money can't buy happiness simply hasn't shopped at our meeting."
Besides shopping for See's Candies and Justin Boots, there's the newspaper-tossing challenge, a 5K run to celebrate Berkshire's Brooks running shoes, and the highly anticipated Q&A session with Buffett and Charlie Munger. Buffett says if you must exit during the Q&A, do so "while Charlie's talking." Chess and bridge champions take on all comers. Buffett dines at Piccolo's and Gorat's Steakhouse, and reservations months in advance are mandatory.
Buffett puts the "fun" in fundamentals, but serious shareholders can take in journalist and insurance-industry analyst panels. To spice things up, Buffett always invites a certified bear.
Tens of thousands attend this meeting -- so many that airlines usually jack up prices for weekend tickets to Omaha (fly to Kansas City instead and drive the rest, advises Buffett). Highlight events are so spread throughout Omaha that you need a car.
You have to be a Berkshire shareholder to attend (as with all shareholder meetings). The Berkshire B shares currently trade around $115, having appreciated about 46% since 2009. The conglomerate is widely diversified, with 55-plus subsidiaries and a portfolio of investments worth almost $89 billion as of June 30. That's widely regarded as a value investor's dream..
Theater with coffee
Theater manifests itself in shareholder exchanges with CEO Howard Schultz. This year a shareholder asked whether the company should publicly support gay marriage. Schultz responded that the decision was made not with economics in mind, but "through the lens of our people," suggesting that the questioner could sell his shares -- if he were unsatisfied with their 38% one-year return.
The 2013 meeting featured Nancy Koehn, an authority on Lincoln, speaking on Starbucks' leadership and Lincoln. Musical star John Legend performed in 2013. Thousands attend. Get there early.
The company now has 19,000 locations worldwide and offers a yield of 1.1%.
Best for star power
Wal-Mart's meeting usually generates controversy. This year the Bangladesh factory tragedy and worker rights interrupted what Forbes called "the dog and pony show." If seeing executives squirm entertains you, then Wal-Mart's meeting is a can't-miss.
Overall, it's "rah-rah, Wal-Mart." But for one share and a Bentonville motel room, investors have seen Aerosmith, Taylor Swift, the Black Eyed Peas, and a pre-twerking Miley Cyrus.
Meetings for gamers and the outdoorsy