NEW YORK (TheStreet) - All eyes were on Omaha's CenturyLink Center on Saturday as Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) held its annual shareholder meeting, a ritual which provides an important check on the strength of the U.S. economic recovery.
The company's investors already had plenty to celebrate at the annual get-together, given the firm's share price gains that are solidly beating the S&P 500 Index over year-to-date, one-year and five-year periods. Nevertheless, Warren Buffett and Berkshire vice chairman Charlie Munger faced hours of questioning from investors, analysts and even short-sellers.
The Omaha-based conglomerate's annual shareholder meeting raised topics ranging from an outlook on the global economy, acquisitions, the state of the banking industry and Federal Reserve policies. Still, the meeting didn't resolve some lingering investor concerns, such as a successor to Buffett, the 'Oracle of Omaha'.Twice, Buffett evaded direct questions seeking he announce a successor. Meanwhile, both Buffett and his top lieutenant, Charles Munger, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) vice chairman, reiterated many comments from the firm's annual shareholder letter. Buffett and Munger, however, provided plenty of colorful moments at a packed shareholder meeting, including a disagreement on the state of the U.S. banking industry. They both also gave only muted signs of excitement for Berkshire's push into international markets such as Europe and Asia. "If you told us that we could only invest in the United States the rest of our lives, we would not view that as a huge hardship,"Buffett said at the shareholder meeting. In a twist to Berkshire's annual meeting, Buffett and Munger fielded questions from Seabreeze Partners President and Real Money Pro contributor, Douglas Kass. "Doug Kass provided a little spice. Although being the devils advocate in that situation, it was an impossible role," said William Smead, chief investment officer of Smead Capital. Kass "raised some interesting points and drew some good responses," he added. Buffett did a good job portraying the performance of Berkshire's operating subsidiaries, for instance, BNSF Railways, according to Smead. At the meeting, Buffett and Munger appeared hesitant to project Berkshire's earnings in a faster growing economy, Smead said. "I was surprised by the lack of the probabilities they laid out for an improving economy," he said. "It was a benign quarter in insurance, but our other businesses did quite well," Buffett said of Berkshire's earnings at the shareholder meeting. "We have been very lucky that a lot of oil has been found close to our railroad tracks," he added, of BNSF earnings. Check out TheStreet's live blog recap for all the news from the day-long event: -- Written by Antoine Gara, Lindsey Bell and Ruben Ramirez. Follow @antoinegara
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