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What to Expect at Berkshire Hathaway's 2020 Shareholder Meeting

By Dan Caplinger – Updated Apr 29, 2020 at 8:28AM

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Warren Buffett's annual meeting will be like no other in his long history.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it. Sports fans and concert goers have had massive events canceled because of the disease. For investors, investing legend Warren Buffett is the next best thing to a rock star, and the annual shareholder meeting of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A -0.06%) (BRK.B -0.95%) typically gathers tens of thousands of people together in Omaha to see Buffett in person and participate in what many have called "Woodstock for capitalists."

2020 will be a lot different for the annual shareholder meeting for Berkshire. There won't be big crowds, and a lot of the things that shareholders take for granted won't be available. Nevertheless, the show will go on, and investors will be able to share in the wisdom that Buffett is known for freely expressing year after year.

Warren Buffett, with many people behind him out of focus.

Warren Buffett at a past shareholder meeting. Image source: The Motley Fool.

Keeping it simple

Ordinarily, the Berkshire annual shareholder meeting is a multi-day event. However, back in March, Berkshire decided that it would not have a live in-person event in Omaha this year, instead choosing to rely exclusively on remote participation.

As a result, some of the usual things that shareholders have come to know and love over the years won't happen. That includes the following:

  • The company won't issue credentials to attend the meeting in person.
  • There won't be an exhibit hall featuring the wholly owned subsidiaries and other businesses under the Berkshire corporate umbrella. Many shareholders come to the event primarily for the chance to buy things from companies like Nebraska Furniture Mart, See's Candies, and Borsheim's Fine Jewelry at discounted prices.
  • The Invest in Yourself 5K race typically takes place on Sunday morning after most of the corporate business has concluded, but organizers canceled this year's race.

In addition, a host of other less formal events, such as cocktail gatherings and meals at Buffett favorite Gorat's Steak House, won't be on the ticket for 2020. The news is a clear blow to the Omaha economy, but it reflects the impacts that the coronavirus pandemic has had across the globe.

A scaled-down Q&A

Investors focus their attention on Saturday's main event, which typically includes a short comedic movie presentation followed by two sessions of questions and answers from the audience. Last year's meeting, for instance, had Q&A start at 9:15 a.m. CDT and run through noon, followed by further questions from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

This year's event will be much shorter. At 3 p.m. CDT, the pre-meeting show will start, live-streamed on Yahoo! Finance. Attending the meeting will be Buffett and Greg Abel, who's Berkshire's vice chair of non-insurance operations. Notable in his absence will be Charlie Munger, Buffett's right-hand man.

Buffett and Abel will take questions submitted to journalists Carol Loomis, Becky Quick, and Andrew Ross Sorkin. Quick will ask the questions that she and her fellow journalists find most interesting and important, and Buffett and Abel will answer them without any prior scripting or knowledge of what the questions would be. That session is scheduled to last 45 minutes.

At 3:45 p.m. CDT, Berkshire will turn to the more formal part of the shareholder meeting. Voting on the board of directors and other shareholder proposals will take place, but the lack of a live presentation should mean that votes will already have been made by proxy. That should dramatically shorten the process from the roughly 45 minutes that Berkshire allocated to it in advance of last year's meeting.

Concentrated Buffett

Many investors are disappointed that Berkshire's shareholder meeting won't be live. Missing out on the Omaha experience is a loss that many feel deeply, especially as Warren Buffett and his peers grow ever older.

However, even if the event is shorter, investors can still expect it to be jam-packed with information. Buffett and Quick in particular will know that the investing world will be hanging on his every word, and the Oracle of Omaha to make every minute count with the most important news on his thought process for Berkshire going forward.

Berkshire shareholders are hopeful that things will get back to normal for 2021. In the meantime, 2020's meeting promises to be an unprecedented historical event -- something that the 89-year-old Buffett doesn't get to see very often after a lifetime of experience.

Dan Caplinger owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Berkshire Hathaway (B shares) and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $200 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short January 2021 $200 puts on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and short June 2020 $205 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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