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Admirers spare no expense to hear “Oracle of Omaha”

May 5, 2006

By Megan Davies

OMAHA, Neb (Reuters) – Investors will go to great lengths
to hear U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett speak.

Jack Asallas from Montevideo, Uruguay, paid $1,200 and
spent 24 hours on four planes to reach the annual meeting of
Buffett’s insurance and investment company Berkshire Hathaway
being held in Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday.

But he believes it is worth every cent to hear the “Oracle
of Omaha” speak — even if he was delayed for three hours in
Washington, D.C., and lost his luggage on the journey.

“To be here is incredible,” Asallas told Reuters at a
restaurant in central Omaha. “You learn something that you
don’t get taught in university — real life. I want to hear how
to really manage a company and how to delegate in the way that
Mr. Buffett does.”

Asallas, who has been a Buffett follower since he picked up
a book on the investment guru six years ago, wants to glean
hints he can use at his family business in Montevideo, which
makes buttons and zippers.

He’s not alone in his admiration. Buffett, 75, the world’s
second richest man (after Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates), is
widely regarded as one of the world’s savviest investors. His
investments are closely followed.

Last year the company’s annual meeting attracted 21,000
people.

Media speculation on Friday that Buffett could announce a
major acquisition this weekend using some of Berkshire’s $45
billion cash pile helped drive the share prices of speculated
targets auto insurer Mercury General Corp. up 3.6 percent to
$57.52 and utility PG&E up 3.4 percent to

$40.80.

But the possibility of a big announcement from the meeting
decreased as Berkshire said late on Friday afternoon that it
would buy 80 percent of metal working tools business Iscar
Metalworking Cos. in a deal that values the company at $5
billion.

Berkshire shares rose $710 on Friday to $88,710. Buffett
took over Berkshire in 1965 when it was a struggling textile
mill.

GOLDEN NUGGETS

Mohnish Pabrai, managing partner at Pabrai Investment
Funds, where he oversees funds that own $30 million of
Berkshire shares, is attending his ninth Berkshire annual
meeting.

Every year he leaves Omaha with “nuggets of information,”
either from the meeting itself where Buffett and his partner
Charlie Munger, 82, take questions for about six hours, or from
comments at other events, Pabrai said.

Neither Buffett, nor Munger, have given stock tips or hints
at what they may buy, but they might comment on industry
sectors.

Pabrai booked a $16 razor shave with Buffett’s barber of 15
years, Stan Dosekal, in the concourse level of the Kiewit Plaza
building which houses Berkshire’s headquarters.

“That was good – I’ll have to make it an annual part of the
pilgrimage,” said Pabrai.

Despite being worth an estimated $42 billion, Buffett lives
a rather modest life, still working and living in Omaha, a city
of 409,000 people, and only drawing an annual salary of about
$100,000 to run Berkshire.

The entrance to his office on the 14th floor of the Kiewit
Plaza block with its beige walls and red plastic flowers gives
no hint of the wealth he has built up.

Berkshire now owns up to 50 businesses, selling things
ranging from underwear to insurance, as well as stakes in
companies like retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and soft drinks
maker Coca-Cola Co.

Charles Page, a Berkshire shareholder since the 1980s, who
lives in Carmel, California, has all his retirement income in
Berkshire shares and also bought them for his six
grandchildren.

“A lot of people say to me, you have all your retirement in
one stock? But I say that it’s the ultimate diversification
with all the companies that he has,” said Page, 77, who is
attending his 10th Berkshire meeting this weekend.

The meeting kicks off on Saturday with a movie produced by
Buffett’s daughter Susie. Speaking outside a restaurant in
Omaha, Susie told Reuters to expect some “great surprises…and
great appearances.”

Last year, the movie featured advertisements for Berkshire
businesses and a cartoon spoof of “The Wizard of Oz” titled
“The Wizard of Omaha.”

The serious business of the meeting itself is flanked by
three days of parties and shopping events. The local newspaper,
the Omaha World-Herald, wrapped its Friday edition with a full
page of information about weekend events.


Source: reuters



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