Buffett Welcomes Shareholders To Omaha

By: The Associated Press Email
By: The Associated Press Email

The state of the economy and Berkshire Hathaway's recent performance were among the first things addressed Saturday at the annual shareholders' meeting.

Roughly 35,000 people packed the Qwest Center and overflow rooms to listen to Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger answer questions for more than five hours.

“It's been exciting, it's interesting, I've never been to one," said shareholder Frank Hroenk. "It's very interesting and we like the question and answer."

Buffett praised the decisions U.S. officials made to right the economy in the midst of a "financial hurricane" and defending the ones he made to help his company navigate the storm.

"Overall, I commend the actions that were taken," said Buffett, who added he couldn't predict how quickly the economy and the markets will improve. He said last fall that the U.S. was facing an "economic Pearl Harbor."

Buffett said his company will report a roughly 10-percent drop in its first-quarter operating profit next Friday. Buffett said Berkshire made about $1.7 billion in the first quarter compared to the $1.9 billion a year ago.

Berkshire's Class A stock lost 32 percent in 2008 and Berkshire's book value, assets minus liabilities, declined 9.6 percent to $70,530 per share, the worst year since Buffett took over in 1965.

Berkshire reported a 2008 profit of $4.99 billion or $3,224 per Class A share, down 62 percent from the previous year, but better than many companies.

Shareholders showed up at the Nebraska Furniture Mart for some special deals and a barbecue. The Mart says record attendance was set this year at its event with 3,000 people. The store hopes to see a reflection of that in its sales.

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