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An Investor's Guide to Berkshire Hathaway’s 2016 Annual Meeting

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® - Apr 29, 2016 at 6:24AM

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Here's what you need to know about Woodstock for Capitalists

The Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A 2.10%) (BRK.B 2.12%) annual meeting, often referred to as "Woodstock for Capitalists," will be held in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday, April 30. Here's a guide to the weekend's events, what you need to know if you're going, and what the most significant parts are to you as an investor.

Not your ordinary annual meeting
Berkshire Hathaway is and always has been about the shareholders -- not about Wall Street analysts and institutional investors. So, its annual meeting is actually a full weekend of events, most of which are centered around common shareholders.

The Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting draws considerably more people than your standard annual meeting.

The festivities get started on Friday, April 29 with an exhibit hall featuring many Berkshire subsidiaries hosting a shareholder shopping day, and an evening cocktail reception. This is followed by the actual annual meeting on Saturday, April 30, which generally fills the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, a venue with a capacity of 17,560 people.

During the meeting, the exhibit hall remains open with displays from many of Berkshire's subsidiary companies such as Pampered Chef and GEICO, as well as several companies in Berkshire's stock portfolio such as Coca-Cola and Kraft Heinz. Most of these companies will be selling or promoting their products to shareholders, and many have products made unique for the meeting, like the "Berky Boxer" made by Fruit of the Loom.

The events continue through Sunday with the Berkshire Hathaway "Invest in Yourself" 5K, as well as a private shareholder dinner at one of Warren Buffett's favorite steakhouses in Omaha.

How to get in
The qualification for getting into the meeting is simple: You need to be a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder. When Berkshire mailed out its annual report to shareholders of record in mid-March, an order form for meeting credentials was attached to the proxy statement. Alternatively, there will be a shareholder services kiosk in the lobby of the CenturyLink Center on Friday, April 29 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday, April 30 from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You'll need to show proof that you own Berkshire shares as well as photo identification before meeting credentials will be issued.

The meeting credential not only gets you into Saturday's annual meetings, but it's also necessary for shareholder discounts from Berkshire's subsidiaries, and other events throughout the weekend.

You don't have to go to Omaha to watch
For the first time ever, Berkshire's annual meeting will be live-streamed on Yahoo! Finance. Since interest in the meeting has skyrocketed over the years, Buffett decided to repurpose Berkshire's existing broadcast feed, which had previously been used to broadcast the event to video streams in the CenturyLink Center and other nearby locations.

The live coverage will begin a half-hour before the meeting, at 9 a.m. local lime (10 a.m. ET), and will be available for replay for 30 days following the meeting.

Do's and don'ts
If you're going to attend the meeting in person, keep these things in mind:

Do...

Don't...

Dress casually

Attempt to take photos or record video while the annual meeting is in session

Plan to spend Friday-Sunday in Omaha to get the full experience

Save large quantities of seats for your group in the arena (a seat or two is OK)

Have one question prepared to ask Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger if you're planning to participate in the question-asking drawing

Hog the microphone if you're selected to ask Warren Buffett a question, or ask about what Berkshire is buying or selling

Take advantage of the off-site parking and multiple shuttles offered

Attempt to bundle several questions together into one

What investors should keep an eye on
Hands down, the most important thing for investors to pay attention to is the Q&A session, which begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, and continues until 3:30 p.m. that afternoon. Neither Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger have any prior knowledge about what questions might be asked, and there is usually some valuable Buffett wisdom and insights into Berkshire's operations discussed in this session.

As an example, during last year's Q&A session, Buffett explained to investors why there was a 0% chance Berkshire will ever be broken up, pointing out the benefit of being able to funnel money from any one of its 60-or-so subsidiaries to another.

Another revealing answer had to do with renewable energy. Berkshire has considerable investment in utilities, and some shareholders are rightfully concerned about the rise or renewable forms of energy. Berkshire's Greg Abel stated that rather than being disruptive, renewable energy creates great opportunities for all of the company's utilities, and that the company will embrace it.

And finally, when confronted with investor concerns about whether or not Berkshire's culture will continue after Buffett and Munger are gone, Buffett responded, "It's a vital part of Berkshire to have a clearly defined and a deeply embedded culture," and that it will "continue for decades and decades and decades to come."

For a few more highlights that can let you know what to expect, check out our coverage of the annual meeting from last year.

So, while a six-hour Q&A session might seem like a lot to sit through, the knowledge you'll pick up about the current and future direction of Berkshire -- and the general investment wisdom you'll get -- will undoubtedly make it time well spent.

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