2020 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting Video, Transcript, and Notes

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The 2020 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting was on May 2nd, 2020 and is now available as a recorded video on Yahoo Finance and a handy Rev.com transcription. As usual, I recommend listening or reading on your own, as my notes always differ slightly from what the business media chooses to highlight.

What makes Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) interesting to me is that it all started out as Buffett investing his own money alongside a few close family and friends. He’s always had nearly all of his own money in it. Even today, Berkshire is the main investment vehicle for many family members. People you run into at the store. People with whom you’ve shared a meal. This changes the types and amounts of risk you take.

And, now, I would never take real chances with money, of other people’s money under any circumstances. Both Charlie and I come from a background where we ran partnerships. I started mine in 1956 for really seven either actual family members or the equivalent. And Charlie did the same thing six years later. And we never, neither one of us, I think, I know I didn’t, and I’m virtually certain the same is true of Charlie, neither one of us ever had a single institution investment with us.

Buffett has stated that when he writes his annual letters, he imagines his sister reading them. That’s how I try to write as well, as an enthusiast making careful shares and recommendations to family. This overall sentiment helps you understand how BRK is run.

He started out with a familiar story of “betting on America”. This country has been though a lot, and it will recover again.

One of the scariest of scenarios, when you had a war with one group of States fighting another group of States, and it may have been tested again in the great depression, and it may be tested now to some degree, but in the end the answer is never bet against America, and that in my view is as true today as it was in 1789, and even was true during the civil war, and the depths of the depression.

In terms of investing, this means holding onto stocks for 20 or 30 years. But to survive the shocks during those times, you should never borrow money to invest in stocks, you need to have adequate reserves in 100% safe cash, and you need the proper psychological temperament.

The American tailwind is marvelous. American business represents, and it’s going to have interruptions, and you’re not going to foresee the interruption, and you don’t want to get yourself in a position where those interruptions can affect you either because you’re leveraged or because you’re psychologically unable to handle looking at a bunch of numbers.

You just don’t know what’s going to happen. You know, at least in my view, you know that America’s tailwind is not exhausted. You’re going to get a fine result if you own equities over a long period of time. And the idea that equities will not produce better results than the 30-year Treasury bond, which yields one and a quarter percent now, it’s taxable income. It’s the aim of the Federal Reserve to have 2% a year inflation. Equities are going to outperform that bond. They’re going to outperform Treasury bills. They’re going to outperform that money you’ve stuck under your mattress.

Simple, low-cost S&P 500 index fund for growth. Avoid the salespeople.

So find businesses. Get a cross section. And in my view, for most people, the best thing to do is to own the S&P 500 index fund. People will try and sell you other things because there’s more money in it for them if they do. And I’m not saying that that’s a conscious act on their part. Most good salespeople believe their own baloney. I mean, that’s part of being a good salesperson. And I’m sure I’ve done plenty of that in my life too, but it’s very human if you keep repeating something often enough.

100% backed-by-the-government cash for safety. For them, it means Treasury-backed bills. For individual investors, this extends to FDIC-insured savings accounts and certificates of deposit.

And that means we own nothing but treasury bills. I mean, we’ve never owned, we never buy commercial paper. We don’t count on bank lines and a few of our subsidiaries have them, but we basically want to be in a position to get through anything. And we hope that doesn’t happen but you can’t rule out the possibility anymore than in 1929 you could rule out the possibility that you know you would be waiting until 1955, or the end of 1954, to get even.

Ignore the two things above if you have credit card debt.

My general advice to people, I mean, we have an interest in credit cards. But I think people should avoid using credit cards as a piggy bank to be rated. I had a woman come to see me here not long ago, and she’d come on some money. Not very much, but it was a lot to her. She’s a friend of mine, and she said, “What should I do with it?” I said, “Well, what do you owe on your credit card?” She says, “Well, I owe X.” I said, “Well, what you should do…” I don’t know what interest rate she was paying, but I think I asked her and she knew. It was something like 18% or something. I said, “I don’t know how to make 18%.” I mean, if I, owed any money at 18% the first thing I do with any money I had would be to pay it off. It’s going to be way better than any investment idea I’ve got. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

Be safe with your finances at this time. You don’t sell your airline stocks at a multi-billion dollar loss if you think a V-shaped recovery is likely. Just because we are still recovering from one horrible event, doesn’t mean another might not happen.

I would say that there are things that I think are quite improbable. And I hope they don’t happen, but that doesn’t mean they won’t happen. I mean, for example, in our insurance business, we could have the world’s, or the country’s, number one hurricane that it’s ever had, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that could have the biggest earthquake a month later. So we don’t prepare ourselves for a single problem. We prepare ourselves for problems that sometimes create their own momentum. I mean 2008 and 9, you didn’t see all the problems the first day, when what really kicked it off was when the Freddie and Fannie, the GSEs went into conservatorship in early September. And then when money market funds broke the buck… There are things to trip other things, and we take a very much a worst case scenario into mind that probably is a considerably worse case than most people do.

After listening to this entire Buffett talk and reading this Munger interview, the overall takeaway is definitely that of safety. They have been safe and will stay safe, no matter who complains about their cash levels. The world has changed, and just because something has a lower price today than in January, doesn’t automatically mean it is a better deal than in January.

Here is a NYT Dealbook article by Andrew Ross Sorkin, who has attended many shareholder meetings in person and also sensed a different tone this year.

You can find links to previous years’ Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Meeting Full Videos, Transcripts, and Podcasts here.

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  1. Here is a good take from a journalist who has attended multiple shareholder meetings and also noticed the difference in overall tone this year.

  2. I know you like to keep comments upbeat but as the Sorkin article pointed out….there are times for realism as well. What we’ve seen over the last two months is the complete lie the Fed has been peddling for 2 years about the “strong well positioned deleveraged consumer”. We’ve seen the lie of the “Gig” economy which had about as much stability as a two legged table….with tens of thousands of people unable to survive for fifteen minutes without a Welfare check or a handout. We’ve seen more clearly then ever what the real Third World America is about as if millions of of food stamp recipients, generational poor and the plague of the homeless in every city everywhere was somehow not in our field of vision all the time. We’ve seen what totally corrupt and incompetent leaderless politicians from both parties with three months warning of an impending crises do….they do do nothing and now try to blame their total failure on China as if no one excluding those in a coma since December 2019 didn’t know what was going on in Wuhan and Italy after that.
    And tying this all to your website. Whatever the outcome of this disaster what we are watching is literally The Fall Of The Roman Empire part 2. And anyone who is invested in Third World Plundered America is going to be in for an awful surprise. Because the worst is yet to come.

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