OMAHA, Neb. -- With a line of people snaking around two city blocks as the sun rises in this Midwestern city, a passerby might mistake the mob as parishioners waiting to rush a revival tent.

This first Saturday in May, however, it is over 12,000 shareholders waiting to rush the Omaha Civic Center for the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, a chance for disciples of Warren Buffett to catch a glimpse of the world's most celebrated capitalist and, if they're lucky, lob a question to Buffett and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger.

For many, the confab is a near-religious experience, with shareholders viewing Buffett as an investing deity -- something he dismisses.

"I think they're smoking something," Buffett joked when asked what he thinks of shareholders who migrate to Omaha because they equate his views on the market to God.

Nonetheless, shareholders have once again packed this hockey-arena-turned-classroom to hear the sage opine and wax eloquently about Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.A), the markets, his thoughts on corporate governance and life in general. And, of course, to chuckle and respond to the sharp wit and life lessons that Charlie Munger so skillfully provides.

Berkshire, Economy and Taxes

Buffett continues to believe the economy is struggling. "The economy is sluggish, has been for a long time," Buffett noted, reminding investors he opined the economy was in recession in a special letter to shareholders after the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001. "What has happened is that really since late 2000 housing and autos have done quite well but the rest of the economy has been quite sluggish and it continues."

A weak economy has affected many of Berkhsire's operating business in the first quarter. "Our noninsurance business generally did not do great in the first quarter," Buffett said. "Our insurance businesses did quite well." He noted the company will post about $1.7 billion in operating earnings when the first-quarter report is released, and the insurance business saw its float increase by nearly $1.3 billion, to about $42.5 billion. Of note, the company's troubled General Re unit turned an operating profit in the first quarter.

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