Four things were made quite clear at a cocktail reception for Berkshire Hathaway shareholders Friday night at the Borsheims jewelry store in Omaha.
- 1. Berkshire investors absolutely adore Warren Buffett. (And Charlie Munger too.)
- 2. Few worry about what will happen to Berkshire after Buffett retires or succumbs to the same fate that lies ahead for all of us.
- 3. Even fewer shareholders seem willing to entertain the thought of selling their Berkshire stock any time soon ... if ever.
- 4. Berkshire class B shareholders all wish they were rich enough to purchase an A share.
When you talk to the middle class investors who don't have $192,000 and change to buy a class A (BRKA) share of Berkshire, you quickly realize that their reason for owning the lower-priced B shares (BRKB) is rooted in a sense of immense trust that Buffett will not steer them wrong.
Steve Folsom of Bradenton, Fla. said that he's owned the B shares for more than a decade. So he bought them when they were trading at a four-digit price before the big stock split. The B shares are now hovering around $128.
He said he bought them due to pressure from his wife, who "hounded" him to take winnings from investing in both Sirius and XM (SIRI) before those two sattelite radio companies merged and put the money in something safer like Berkshire Hathaway.
Folsom said he is very happy that he listened to his wife. And even with the B shares now trading near an all-time high, he said he plans to hold on to them and leave them for his grandkids in his will.
"Berkshire is a stock that if you did sell it, in five years you'd turn around and say, 'What the hell was I thinking in selling that?'" Folsom emphatically stated.
Max Antoine, who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, shared that sentiment. He said he bought Berkshire's B shares ("They're more in my league," he teased.) after a friend recommended them and he did his own research. He can't envision a scenario where he would sell.
"This is a long-term holding that you want to pass down to the next generation," Antoine said, adding that he is very confident that the management team who Buffett passes the torch to at Berkshire will continue to run the company in a like-minded way.
Sure, it's risky to bet that Buffett's successor -- or, more likely, successors since no one individual is expected to do all that Buffett currently does -- will match the Oracle of Omaha's track record.
But investors did not seem worried at all. The common theme I heard was that they do not doubt Buffett. That means they also think he will make smart decisions about who takes over for him.
"Buffett has surrounded himself with people that you have to assume he trusts," said Emily Benke. She and her husband Stan, who live in Bennington, Nebraska, said they also plan to pass their B shares on to their kids.
"I wish I could say I own the A shares." Stan sighed.
"One day. One day," answered Emily.
Stan added that he's learned a lot from being a Berkshire shareholder and that he's decided to invest in other blue chip companies that appear to fit the Buffett mold, such as casino owner MGM Resorts (MGM) and Union Pacific (UNP).
Stan conceded that the latter pick is sort of controversial since Berkshire owns rival railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe. But Union Pacific, he quickly pointed out, is also an Omaha-based company.
Other novice investors said they also were trying to follow the lead of Buffett and invest only in quality companies with strong earnings.
Tracy Drollinger, Sandy Henderson and Michelle Giambelluca are members of an investing club in Omaha that they call Disco Divas.
Drollinger -- who referred to herself, her friends and husband Joe as "just working class B-types" -- said they thought about buying Berkshire's stock for a long time but finally pulled the trigger once the stock split made it affordable for average investors.
And some shareholders were in Omaha more for the scene than anything else. A woman named Bette (who did not give her last name) said she came from Los Angeles with a group of friends on a "weekend lark." Bette said she bought the stock mainly so she could come to the meeting. Her friend Marilyn joked that they owned dozens of A shares.
Bette quipped that she would buy more shares if it allowed her to get to the front of the very long line for food and drink. As an aside, she also told me that I should believe the hype about Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome.
There were even some party crashers. Julie Hicks, a nursing student originally from Colorado, sheepishly confessed that she was not a Berkshire shareholder. She said she wanted to see what the fuss was about ... so she purchased someone else's shareholder badge ... for $5 ... on eBay (EBAY).
A secondary market for Berkshire event passes? Now that's fitting for the so-called "Woodstock of Capitalism". Hicks did admit though that she was enjoying the party and would now consider buying some Berkshire shares at some point.
Another Buffett acolyte is born.