What happened when the Oracle of Omaha went virtual

Warren Buffett still believes in America’s long-term economic prospects, but tough times are ahead for airlines and insurers.

May 4, 2020

Financial pros like to call Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting “Woodstock for Capitalists” — and 2020’s version looked a lot like every other major festival that decided to forge ahead through the coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, Warren Buffett, Berkshire’s billionaire CEO and the so-called “Oracle of Omaha,” held court remotely.

He typically presents to an audience of thousands in Nebraska’s largest city — last year’s bash brought in 40k+ people, and the event generates an estimated $21.3m for the city.

Investor Woodstock 2020 looked VERY different

For one thing, the virtual version of Buffett-mania devastated Omaha’s local businesses (in 2019, hotel revenue alone totaled $6.7m).

Here are 5 other things we learned:

1️⃣ Buffett believes in America’s long-term economic prospects. We’re still a better country now than at any point in our history — and we’ve been through worse before, Buffett said. His message: “Never bet against America.”

2️⃣ But we’re still waiting for his next big acquisition. Berkshire just reported a $49.7B loss for the 1st quarter. But at the same time, it’s stockpiling cash: $137B worth.

The pandemic may present buying opportunities, but Bloomberg noted that Buffett is staying on the sidelines — in contrast to his strategy during the 2008 financial crisis.

3️⃣ And Berkshire’s airline selloff is a sign of tough times. The conglomerate sold ~$6.5B of stock in April, including its entire stakes in United, American, Delta, and Southwest Airlines. “The world changed for airlines,” Buffett said.

4️⃣ The insurance industry will be the next battleground. Buffett predicted that we’ll see a flood of litigation in the coming months, from companies that go to war with their insurance companies over lost business due to the pandemic.

5️⃣ Buffett may be a billionaire, but he’s also a schlub like the rest of us. It’s been 7 weeks since he’s had a haircut, and 7+ since he last put on a tie. His pandemic wardrobe, he said, is “just a question of which sweatsuit I wear.”

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