All in the (Capitalist) Family

People representing a cross section of global investors find a lot in common while traveling together to Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting.
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Got any questions for Warren Buffett? Shoot me an email, and we'll consider them for the coming meetings.

EN ROUTE TO OMAHA, NEB. -- "I'm willing to bet we could buy this jet with the number of Berkshire shares on board," one Buffett devotee on

Comair

Flight 5341 from Cincinnati to Omaha quipped today. Passengers climbing the staircase of the 50-seat plane let out a little uneasy laughter, suggesting most were shareholders but not wanting to tip their hat as to the fortune they may have amassed from the investment prowess of the Oracle of Omaha.

The Oracle is Warren Buffett. And about all but five of the passengers on the full plane were shareholders of Buffett's

Berkshire Hathaway

(BRKA)

, migrating to Omaha for the company's annual meeting, what one shareholder described as "more a weekend of entertainment than substance, but important nonetheless." It all begins when Buffett tosses the first pitch at the

Omaha Golden Spikes

AAA baseball game and concludes Monday with the annual meeting, a Q&A session between shareholders and Buffett.

The flight presented a unique opportunity for a little focus group at 25,000 feet, getting into feelings about a relatively lackluster year for Berkshire stock, the Oracle and expectations for the weekend.

The Buffett faithful seemed little fazed by the only average return of Berkshire stock since last May. Some even suggesting the stock remains overvalued. "Warren says the stock price should track the book value of Berkshire," said one shareholder from Canada. "It hasn't, and I'm sure Warren would say it's overvalued."

A Curious TSC Reader

Flying from Atlanta to Omaha, via Cincinnati, I arrived a bit early in Cincinnati. The first thing I noticed was a group of people sitting near the gate, all with their Berkshire annual reports in hand.

A subscriber to

TheStreet.com

, Bill Lampeter of Rochester, N.Y., was among them.

"I haven't been a shareholder for too long," Lampeter offered. "But, between your coverage last year and a friend's experience, I just had to see it for myself." He said he particularly wanted to hear what other shareholders had to say about the performance of Berkshire's stock, which is up just 10% since last year's annual meeting.

Another man joined our conversation and said, "I don't mean to interrupt, but the stock performance has been quite good actually. It's up over 50% from last year." Indeed, it all depends on your points of reference, over calendar year 1998 he's correct. However, from May to May, the dates most shareholders use as reference, the stock has traded in a narrow range.

More striking than the statistical analysis was the fact a stranger would instinctively rise to defend Buffett with such fervor. It demonstrates just how loyal and respectful shareholders are both of Buffett and, moreover, their status as Berkshire shareholders.

A Variety of Investors

The passengers on the plane to Omaha represented a cross section of global investors. Ages ranged from 35 to near 80, and there was an almost equal blend of gender. Interestingly, a majority of them were traveling with their spouses. But not Lampeter. "This is not only for Buffett, it's a guys' weekend out," he said, noting that he planned to meet friends from New York, San Francisco and Tokyo.

Interestingly, the shareholder who spoke up in defense of Buffett in the terminal, David Leonsinis, became more critical of the Oracle as we talked across the aisle of the plane. Leonsinis, who lives in South Africa and who was making his second trip to Omaha, said that he worried about people worshiping Buffett to an extreme. "He's a genius, but he's human," he said. "He makes mistakes. But nobody ever talks about them. There is a difference between respect and worship. In this case worship could prove dangerous."

Other shareholders agreed, but with less resolve. "Warren is not infallible," said a shareholder from New Jersey. "But, he's made a lot of people very wealthy and that deserves respect, praise, and thanks."

The trip turned into a surreal family reunion at 25,000 feet. While none of these shareholders were acquainted before flight, they all deplaned in Omaha like a well-heeled family, chatting it up and seemingly singular in their purpose to sing praise to Buffett throughout the weekend, which Buffett years ago dubbed the "capitalist Woodstock."

"It's an amazing event," Leonsinis said. "It's the closest thing to a capitalist religious experience."

Tomorrow: A wrap-up of tonight's events, including a special visit with shareholders who belong to the Yellow BRK Road investment club.

Want to know what the Oracle of Omaha thinks? Join Contributing Editor

Christopher Edmonds

and longtime Buffett watcher

Robert Hagstrom Jr.

, manager of the

Legg Mason Focus Trust

and author of the new book,

The Warren Buffett Portfolio

, as they chat about Buffett's market outlook, his investment strategy and news from the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. It's as close as you'll come to getting inside the mind of one of the world's most famed investors. Chat with Chris and Robert on Yahoo! Tuesday, May 4, at 5 p.m. EDT. Register for the chat at

http://chat.yahoo.com. It's free!

How long can Buffett continue to deliver market-beating performance to his legions of fans?

He's history! BRKA has trailed the S&P by 9 percentage points over the past 12 months.

Buffett will rule again! -- as soon as this market returns to its senses.

Nobody -- even Buffett -- can outperform the market over the long haul.

I asked myself the same question when BRKA was at 400!

Christopher S. Edmonds is president of Resource Dynamics, a private financial consulting firm based in Atlanta. At time of publication, neither Edmonds nor his firm held any position in the stocks mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. While Edmonds cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he welcomes your feedback at

invest@cjnetworks.com.