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OMAHA, Neb. -- Play ball!
That was the cheer of over 10,000 idolatrous fans as Warren "The Whip" Buffett demonstrated his new "flutterball" at
night yesterday at Rosenblatt Stadium. Buffett is part owner of the
Omaha Golden Spikes
, a minor-league affiliate of the
Kansas City Royals
that did battle on a nearly perfect spring evening with the
While the Golden Spikes -- so named because of their majority ownership by
Union Pacific Railroad
-- played before their largest crowd of the year, most of the faithful weren't there for the ballgame. Rather, they came to catch a glimpse of Omaha's investment icon, Sir Warren of Berkshire. (The ballgame's final score: Omaha 3, Iowa 1.)
Buffett didn't disappoint. After tossing out the first pitch, he took his roost high above the crowds in the upper deck of Rosenblatt to greet shareholders, sign autographs, and pose for pictures with those who hang on his every word. This is Buffett at his best -- a chance to both demonstrate his kinship with his shareholders and show his gracious acceptance of the massive outpouring of gratitude they heap upon him. "Warren shows everybody a good time," said Kevin Boyer, a longtime shareholder from Detroit. "He treats everyone like a partner."
Buffet signed more than 200 autographs, including many copies of
, one of his favorite books, and Berkshire annual reports. Every year shareholders approach Buffett with unique items upon which to pen his name, including $100 bills, pictures from previous annual meetings and even baseballs. "My autograph isn't worth a dime," Buffett protested as he scribbled. But in this case, shareholders disagree with Buffett's assessment of value.
In Warren We Trust
While Buffett declined to comment on the substance of Berkshire or the markets, there were plenty of shareholders willing to share their opinions.
One contentious issue might have been Berkshire Hathaway's recent lackluster performance: The shares have lagged the market over the past 12 months. But when the topic was brought up, some of his shareholders bristled at the charge: "I think some people just have a myopic view," said Mahnish Pabrai, a shareholder from Chicago. "I think trying to measure performance in a year's period is fundamentally anti-Buffett."
Others actually wish the stock would decline in price. "If Berkshire stock goes down, its just a better opportunity for me to buy more," said Rich Rockwood, a shareholder and student at the University of Indiana.
Like many others, Rockwood places blame for the recent stagnation on
shareholders' ignorance. Berkshire Hathaway acquired General Re in December. "It's the General Re shareholders. They just didn't understand what they were getting." Interestingly, the explosive growth in attendance at this year's Berkshire annual meeting is attributed to the new General Re shareholders making the trek to Omaha. Berkshire officials said the acquisition of the reinsurance company nearly doubled the shareholder register.
Berkshire shareholders appear united in their long-term view of the markets and Berkshire as an investment. While one might sense the level of idolatry is down a notch from last year, nary a shareholder was unwilling to give Buffett the benefit of the doubt, and time. "The fact that the stock soared over the last five years makes the recent sideways move quite tolerable," said Ray Walker, a shareholder from York, Penn., who was attending his fourth annual meeting.
Back on The Field
While Buffett's first pitch is a long-standing tradition on Berkshire night at the ballpark, this year's recipient of the "Buffett flutterball" was a real treat for baseball fans.
Hall of Famer
, a longtime
shortstop, dropped by to root for his former team's minor league affiliate. He joked with Buffett and took him on in an impromptu batting contest.
It turns out that Banks is a Berkshire shareholder and an acquaintance of "The Whip." His knowledge of Buffett's pitching acumen prompted him to quip, "With Warren on the mound, I feel like Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGuire all wrapped up in one."
That lead Buffett to retort, "I throw a mean premature sinker, the kind that bounces half way to the plate. Bring your shovel."
While many Berkshire shareholders were too busy gawking at Buffett to notice Banks, the 60-something legend proved he can still hit the ball. After four somewhat, er, interesting attempts -- one rolled its way to the backstop! -- Buffett put one over the plate and Banks smacked it, a pop-up to third. Looks like his 513th career home run will have to wait.
Banks also pleased the crowd with the "Bankisms" that made him a famous Cubs motivator, such as "There's no time for fear this year" and "You've got to finish the race."
And, of course, who could miss his quip as he stepped up to the plate: "We're in great shape, let's play two."
The Party Circuit
Buffett and Banks made two other appearances last night, one at the Yellow BRKers investment club party in Omaha's Old Town Market and the other at the Omaha Marriott for a party hosted by
, author of Buffett biography
Of Permanent Value
While Warren was clearly in his element amidst his shareholders, he was loath to discuss anything related to money. "Tonight is about baseball and fun," he said yesterday. "There'll be time for serious talk tomorrow."
Tonight: Coverage of Buffett's news conference and shareholders' trek to Borsheim's -- America's largest independent jewelry store and a Berkshire subsidiary -- for the annual shopping spree.
Want to know what the Oracle of Omaha thinks? Join Contributing Editor
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