NEW YORK (
's annual shareholder meeting may be dominated by the recent scandal involving David Sokol, though investors and analysts are also hoping to get some information about how Berkshire's various businesses have performed in the first quarter.
Overseas opportunities are likely to be an important focus, says Thomas Russo, partner at Gardner, Russo & Gardner, which has owned Berkshire Hathaway shares since 1981 and counts them as its third largest holding.
"We haven't seen any international investments recently, and they're going to be more expensive as the dollar weakens, but I think his appetite is still to continue to invest abroad," Russo says.
Michael Yoshikami, CEO of YCMNET Advisors, is curious to hear details from Berkshire chief
about his strategy in India and China.
"Is he looking to replicate what he's done in the United States in India. In other words, is he looking to buy cash flow-oriented businesses or is he looking at overseas investments as more of a venture capital-oriented strategy such as (Chinese electric car maker)
," Yoshikami wants to know.
In his latest shareholder letter, Buffett emphasized that capital spending, at least, will be mainly U.S. focused.
"Certainly our businesses will expand abroad in the future, but an overwhelming part of their future investments will be at home. In 2011, we will set a new record for capital spending--$8 billion--and spend
of the $2 billion increase in the United States," Buffett wrote.
Meyer Shields, analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, says he expects Buffett will offer details on losses related to the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand. While Shields estimates those losses at just over $1 billion, he says he has little confidence in that figure. Still, Shields does not expect the difference between actual losses and his estimates to have a material effect on Berkshire's stock price.
Berkshire's four insurance segments generated an underwriting profit of more than $1.3 billion after taxes in 2010, up from $949 million in 2009. Investment gains in the unit totaled $3.86 billion, versus $4.27 billion in 2009. Overall, Berkshire earned nearly $13 billion in 2010 versus just over $8 billion in the previous year.
Berkshire typically releases first quarter results a week or so after its annual meeting in Omaha, and Buffett tends to take a longer term view of things in his closely-watched pronouncements to shareholders. This year, for example, he is expected to focus on the looming U.S. debt crisis.
The topic of David Sokol, however, and the questions it raises about who will succeed Buffett seen by many as the most likely candidate to succeed Berkshire Chairman Warren Buffett, are clearly on investors' minds. Sokol resigned late last month amid stunning revelations that he traded in shares of Lubrizol while talking with investment bankers at Citigroup about recommending Lubrizol to Buffett as a potential acquisition candidate. Berkshire announced a deal to acquire the chemical manufacturer for $9 billion on March 14.
As of mid-Thursday Berkshire shares were down 2.02% since March 30, the day Sokol resigned, versus a gain of 2.81% for the S&P 500.
Yoshikami, who holds Berkshire shares in YMCNET's portfolio, does not attribute the underperformance to the Sokol issue, however.
"It's a pretty conservative stock, and people have been chasing growth in this environment," Yoshikami says.
Nonetheless, Yoshikami says he hopes Buffett will provide more clarity on who is in line to succeed him now that Sokol is out of the picture. Yoshikami believes a portfolio manager would make a better candidate than a professional manager.
"I think of Berkshire as more of a holding company. It's more about how do you construct a portfolio, and then you're hands off letting CEOs run things," Yoshikami says.
Conventional wisdom has been that a business executive would have the most authority and visibility, while a group of portfolio managers would run things behind the scenes. Nonethless, Stifel analyst Shields thinks putting a portfolio manager in charge could make sense.
"I had never thought of it before, but it's not a bad suggestion," Shields says.
Written by Dan Freed in New York
Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.