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Buffett Chooses Kass as Bait for Berkshire Bulls

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's official. Douglas Kass of Seabreeze Partners will play bait for bullish investors at the Warren Buffett-run Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Neb.

Kass has been appointed by the "Oracle of Omaha" to represent the bearish view on shares of Berkshire Hathaway at the investing conglomerate's shareholder meeting scheduled for May 4.

The investment manager and TheStreet contributor will be tasked with making the case against investing in Buffett and Berkshire, just as the company's shares continues to test record highs and outperform gains made by broader indices such as the S&P 500.

In Berkshire's 2012 annual letter released on March 1, Buffett called for an investor to present a negative perspective on the company at its shareholder meeting.

Kass applied for the role, and in a Monday interview with CNBC, Buffett said he was picked to present the bear case on Berkshire.

Interestingly, Kass may be able to borrow from Buffett's own words in making an argument against investing in Berkshire.

For the first time, Warren Buffett appears concerned he will underperform the S&P 500.

In Berkshire Hathaway's annual letter to shareholders, Buffett outlined why he is worried a rising stock market will put the firm's performance below that of the S&P 500 over a five-year stretch.

Buffett fears Berkshire's five-year book value growth rate may underperform the S&P 500 for the first time ever. In 2012, Berkshire's book value per share increased 14.4%, behind the S&P 500's gains of more than 15%.

Such a scenario would be the first in Berkshire's history, indicating that even the "Oracle of Omaha" is having trouble keeping up with rising markets. Continued underperformance may also reflect Buffett's expectations of a strengthening economic recovery.

"In years when the market is particularly strong, expect us to fall short," said Buffett, in his letter.

Still, the lead to Buffett's self-deprecating annual letter may simply be a way for him to put a humble spin on a year when Berkshire's book value increased by $24.1 billion and the company's profit to shareholders nearly reached $15 billion, amid strong performance from new subsidiaries such as Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Lubrizol and MidAmerican Energy and a solid year of investment gains from large holdings of Coca-Cola (KO), Wells Fargo (WFC) and American Express (AXP).

Berkshire's stock gain of more than 14% in 2012 also beat the S&P 500, a performance most investors would take as proof of a strong year.

Kass, therefore, may find himself egging on bullish types such as Buffett and his loyal following of investors.

Still, given Buffett's changing stance on share buybacks and outlines for a dividend were Berkshire's performance to falter in 2013, Kass will have ample opportunity to paint a bleak picture to investors in May.

For more on Buffett and Berkshire's annual meeting, see why the "Oracle" is questioning his performance.

Doug Kass headlines RealMoneyPro.com where he posts his Daily Trading Diary. See it free for 14-days.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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