2024 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting Video, Transcript, and Notes

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The 2024 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting occurred on May 4th, 2024, and while there are lots of articles offering highlights (including this one), it’s never the same feeling as tuning into the actual thing. I always find a few nuggets that mean something to me, even if just a small side remark. Warren Buffett, Greg Abel, and Ajit Jain answered questions while we felt the palpable absence of the late Charlie Munger.

CNBC again has the broadcast rights. You can find the full 7+ hour live re-broadcast on CNBC YouTube (at least for now) and they have also uploaded most of it (not all) to the CNBC Buffett Archives site. Their official transcript is not yet available, but you can find a helpful transcript from Steady Compounding or listen to the audio podcast version here. Personally, I like to listen to the audio in the car once, and then read through the transcript for the second round.

Here are a few personal takeaways and notes.

Charlie Munger tribute. The meeting started with a video tribute to Charlie Munger, but that part is not included in many of the video links. Be sure to watch it here on the full video starting at 30:34. It is a very nice and touching tribute, including many classic Charlie Munger quotes. He did things his way, all the way to the end. I always loved that Buffett and Munger genuinely had fun together. When asked about “one more day with Charlie”, here was part of Buffett’s response:

We always lived, in a way where we were happy with what we were doing every day. I mean, Charlie. Charlie liked learning. He liked, as I mentioned in the movie, he liked a wide variety of things. So he was much broader than I was.

But I didn’t have any great desire to be as broad as he was. And he didn’t have any great desire to be as narrow as I. But we had a lot of fun doing anything. And, you know, we played golf together, we played tennis together, we did everything together. And this you may find kind of interesting.

We had as much fun, perhaps even more to some extent, with things that failed, because then we really had to work and work our way out of them. And in a sense, there’s more fun having somebody that’s your partner in digging your way out of a foxhole than there is just sitting there and watching an idea that you got ten years ago just continually produce more and more profits. So it wasn’t, you know, he really fooled me, though. He went to 99.9 years. I mean, if you pick two guys, you know, he never publicly said he never did a day of exercise except where it was required when he was in the army.

He never did a day of voluntary exercise. He never thought about what he ate. You know, we started every day, and Charlie had. He was interested in more things than I was, but we never had any doubts about the other person, period. And so if I’d had another day with him, we’d probably have done the same thing we were doing the earlier days and we wouldn’t have wanted another.

The only book available at their on-site bookstore this year was the new 2023 edition of Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Essential Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger.

Current Berkshire Hathaway stock price is close to intrinsic value. Berkshire’s cash pile keep growing, and sometimes it buys back shares when Buffett thinks it’s a good deal for existing shareholders. Right now, it seems like Buffett thinks it is only slightly undervalued to intrinsic value. Historically, buying BRK when BRK buys a lot of BRK has been a pretty good bet. (Say that three times fast!)

And our stock is at a level where it adds slightly to the value when we buy in shares. But we would. We would really buy it in a big way, except you can’t buy it in a big way because people don’t want to sell it in a big way, but under certain market conditions, we could deploy quite a bit of money in repurchases. And as you’ll see on the final slide, we have bought it in the last five years. We can’t buy them like a great many other companies because it just doesn’t trade that way.

Buffett sees higher tax rates as likely in the future, at least for corporations. When asked why he trimmed his position in Apple stock, Buffett (as he often does) redirected the question a bit to taxes.

We don’t mind paying taxes at Berkshire, and we are paying a 21% Federal rate on the gains we’re taking in Apple. And that rate was 35% not that long ago, and it’s been 52% in the past when I’ve been operating. And the government owns. The Federal government owns a part of the earnings of the business we make. They don’t own the assets, but they own a percentage of the earnings, and they can change that percentage any year.

And the percentage that they’ve decreed currently is 21%. And I would say with the present fiscal policies, I think that something has to give, and I think that higher taxes are quite likely, and the government wants to take a greater share of your income, or mine or Berkshire’s, they can do it. And they may decide that someday they don’t want the fiscal deficit to be this large, because that has some important consequences, and they may not want to decrease spending a lot, and they may decide they’ll take a larger percentage of what we earn and we’ll pay it.

[…] And if I’m doing it at 21% this year and we’re doing it at a higher percentage later on, I don’t think you’ll actually mind the fact that we sold a little Apple this year.

Living a good life. As usual, he dropped some good general life advice.

But the opportunity in this country is basically limitless. When you think of going back not that many centuries, if you were going to be a shepherd or something like that, 100 years from now, your grandson was a granddaughter, was going to be a shepherd, nothing really happened. And what has happened in the last 200 years with the combination of the industrial revolution, whether it’s science or education or health, you name it. We are so lucky to be born when we were the people in this room, and many of us were lucky enough to be born in the United States as well, that you.

You’re entering the best world that’s ever existed, and you want to find the people to share it with and the activities to participate in that fit you. And if you get lucky, like Charlie and I did, you find things that interest you young. But if you don’t find them right away, you keep looking. And I always tell students to take the job. I mean, find the job that you would like to have if you didn’t need a job.

And sometimes you can find that very early, and sometimes you go through various experiences, but don’t forget what you actually are trying to do, and there’s no place to do it like this country. Find the person that you like to share your life with in many cases. And, you know, sometimes you get lucky into that early, and sometimes you make mistakes.

But I would try to, in a very, very general way, I would try to figure out how you’d want to look back on your life and think about yourself and start today to go on the path that leads to that goal and expect some difficulties along the way. But if you’re thinking that way, you’re more likely to get there.

Keep trying, expect bumps, appreciate what you already have, and don’t let envy ruin it all. This Munger quote from the 2023 Daily Journal shareholder meeting sticks in my head: “I can’t change the fact that a lot of people are very unhappy and feel very abused after everything’s improved by about 600% because there’s still somebody else who has more.”

Berkshire shareholders as both savers and givers. Buffett reinforced the stereotype that Berkshire Hathaway shareholders are different and tend to be relatively frugal, practical, and not focused on outward appearances. Not only did a shareholder donate $1 billion dollars to a medical school in the past year (such that tuition will be free in perpetuity), but it didn’t even require them to change the name of the school. Another BRK shareholder just anonymously donated $500 million.

The next generation is fully in place. My overall impression was that while Buffett is still the top guy, with the passing of Charlie he has psychologically already passed the baton to Greg Abel and Ajit Jain. Abel is who all the subsidiary business managers deal with on a daily basis. Ajit is fully in control of the insurance side. Buffett basically said that Berkshire should be good for the next 20 years and he’s done the best he can (knock on wood).

We’ve really got the problem solved for the next 20 years unless something untoward happens. And if something untoward happens, then. Then the directors need to find, probably within our own organization, somebody that they’ve got confidence in to maintain the special advantages we have over another 20 years period. There’s various things that are low probabilities, but you still have to think about them, and we are in that position now. Now, if you asked me whether.

If something happened to Greg today, everybody says, don’t travel on the same plane. The thing to do is not travel in the same auto. Planes don’t go down that often. Autos crash all the time. I’ve seen all these corporate policies on that, which are kind of crazy when you think about the real risk.

But in any event, Greg is going to have to tell the directors about what if something happened tomorrow. He has to tell the directors about what should be done if anything happens to him. And that’s not an easy thing to do, and I don’t have.

Buffett will still be there to make sure that they properly pounce during the next crisis when everyone is scared but Berkshire. I get the sense that is really the only thing left that would get him really excited: the possibility of a future big moment with lots of buying opportunities. A few last big brush strokes for his masterpiece.

And that’s sort of the story of Berkshire. We’ll try to increase operating earnings, and we will try to reduce shares when it makes sense to do so. And we will hope for an occasional big opportunity. And we’re quite satisfied with the position we’re in.

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