Berkshire vice chairman Charlie Munger, who is 97, lives in Los Angeles and did not attend last year’s meeting in Buffett’s and Berkshire’s hometown of Omaha.
Buffett and Munger were joined by Berkshire’s other vice chairmen, Ajit Jain and Greg Abel. Jain oversees Geico and the company’s insurance businesses while Abel runs everything else for the sprawling conglomerate, which owns the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, several energy businesses and consumer products like Duracell and Benjamin Moore.
Berkshire Hathaway and Buffett have been scrutinized more closely by investors during the past five years, largely because the stock has lagged the market.
But Berkshire Hathaway stock is up about 90% in the past five years while the S&P 500 has more than doubled and the Nasdaq has soared nearly 200%.
Some investors are concerned that the 90-year-old billionaire is losing his touch.
Berkshire Hathaway has come under pressure from investors to be a more environmentally and socially responsible company.
Along those lines, activist investing firm As You Sow is behind a proposal asking Berkshire to publish annual reports about diversity and inclusion. Buffett didn’t address those concerns during the first part of the meeting and Berkshire has recommended that investors vote against it.
Pension fund California Public Employees Retirement System and investment firms Federated Hermes and Caisse Et Placement Du Quebec submitted another proposal asking Berkshire to address climate change more directly. Berkshire has recommended that investors vote against this.
Berkshire says it is already addressing climate change
Abel said during the meeting that “there’s been a clear commitment to decarbonizing our businesses.” He added that Berkshire Hathaway has met Paris Agreement targets to reduce carbon emissions last year, five years ahead of schedule. Abel said the company plans to retire all of its coal units by 2050.
Buffett said he “has no compunction” about owning Chevron and that he would hate to have all hydrocarbons banned quickly, but he noted that the world is quickly moving away from them.
He praised actions by the Federal Reserve and the federal government that helped revitalize the economy and the stock market after the pandemic brought financial activity to a near-halt last year.
“The economy went off a cliff in March and it was resurrected in an extraordinarily effective way by Federal Reserve actions and later on the fiscal front by Congress,” Buffett said.
“Our businesses have done really quite well. This has been a very, very, very unusual recession,” Buffett said, adding that Fed chair Jerome Powell acted quickly and decisively to avoid a much longer downturn.
“I personally would not like to see our present giants brought down to some low level by some anti-competitive reasonings,” Munger said, adding that the tech leaders are a “credit” to America.
“Of course, I hate the bitcoin success,” Munger said, adding that the rise of bitcoin is “disgusting and contrary to the interests of civilization.”
Buffett took a more polite tack, joking that there were probably a lot more bitcoin bulls listening to the Berkshire webcast than people betting against it. So he declined to double down on previous comments.