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Kass: Is Berkshire Ready to Hibernate its Bear?

OMAHA ( TheStreet) -- With little said of a successor to Warren Buffett or where the 'Oracle of Omaha' will fire his 'elephant guns' on M&A next, the participation of Doug Kass, as a bear betting against Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B - Get Report) shares proved one of the biggest twists to the firm's annual shareholder meeting.

Kass, president and founder of Seabreeze Partners and a contributor to Real Money Pro asked six questions as a so-called 'Berkshire bear' in a question-and-answer session at this weekend's meeting, evoking strong responses from Buffett on Berkshire's (BRK.A - Get Report) ability to cut opportunistic investments, such as crisis-time stakes in Bank of America (BAC - Get Report), Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) and General Electric (GE - Get Report) and the logic of naming his son, Howard, as a non-executive chairman of the conglomerate upon his passing.

Buffett also provided a fierce defense of recent large acquisitions such as BNSF Railways, Lubrizol and Heinz (HNZ) when asked by Kass whether the 'Oracle' has started to overpay for deals given Berkshire's current size.

On Friday, Berkshire reported it earned over $43 billion first quarter revenue as overall net income hit $4.892 billion, or $2,977 per Class A share. Berkshire closed Friday's session trading at a record share price of $162,904, or a market capitalization of about $270 billion.

While Kass's participation proved a twist to Berkshire's annual meeting, it is unclear whether Buffett and Berkshire's vice chairman Charlie Munger will invite a short-seller in the company's shares to the next shareholder meeting or whether they will allow Berkshire bears to go in hibernation.

As someone betting against Berkshire, Kass faced a difficult crowd on Saturday, but more than held his own.

In an interview, Whitney Tilson of Kase Capital gave about 50% odds a bear will become a regular participant at Berkshire's shareholder meeting.

"Doug Kass provided a little spice. Although being the devil's advocate in that situation, it was an impossible role," William Smead, chief investment officer of Smead Capital, said of Kass's questioning.

Kass "raised some interesting points and drew some good responses," Smead said.

After Kass's first question, Buffett said to audience laughter on Saturday he was unconvinced to sell his shares in Berkshire. Munger, meanwhile, said he could make better arguments to sell Berkshire shares.

"I want to say to the many Mungers in the audience, don't be so stupid as to sell these shares," Munger said on Saturday, when asked about how a successor to Buffett would impact Berkshire's performance. "That goes to the Buffetts too," Buffett added.

Still, Kass did evoke strong responses from Buffett and Munger on long-standing shareholder concerns surrounding Berkshire's succession planning, its governance and its size. Many of the meeting's memorable quotes came in response to Kass's questions.
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BAC $14.56 -1.56%
BRK.A $219,000.00 -0.05%
BRK.B $145.48 -0.40%
GS $164.11 -0.11%
GE $30.75 -0.49%


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