Portfolio > Asset Managers

Berkshire Hathaway Gathering, Pt. 1: Advisors Make the Pilgrimage

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It might be sacrilegious to accuse Berkshire Hathaway of false advertising, but its spring gathering of shareholders is hardly an annual meeting. No, it’s a pilgrimage. 

Money managers, advisors and investors from all over the world descended upon Omaha, Neb., this weekend to take in the words of wisdom from the world’s most famous investor, Warren Buffett.

More than 18,000 people crammed into the CenturyLink Center—with many thousands more watching on big screens in adjoining rooms—as the 81-year-old Buffett and his right hand man, 88-year-old Charlie Munger, answered more than 50 questions from shareholders and analysts during an eight-hour marathon session. 

Count Timothy Vick, Chicago-based senior portfolio manager of Sanibel Captiva Trust Co., as one of Buffett’s disciples. This year’s meeting was his 13th.

“For as little as one Berkshire share, you can listen to the best investor in the world take questions for hours on end and give home-spun advice on how to become a better investor. It’s hard not to take away some bit of advice that will help you personally as an investor,” he says.

Berkshire’s shares (BRK.A) were trading at $122,888 on Monday afternoon.

Vick, whose private wealth management firm manages $600 million, says he follows Buffett’s buy and hold strategy very closely and he comes to Omaha to “recharge my batteries.” 

“Sometimes you can get caught up too much in the hype of the market. It’s good to go back and listen to some sensitive thinking,” he says. 

The fact that Buffett doesn’t make himself as available as the leaders of other public companies does make the Berkshire meeting an even more critical date on the calendar. “You’ve only got one chance a year to hear what’s on his mind,” says Vick.

Vick will get absolutely no argument from Martien van Winden, founder and manager of Hoofbosch, a Dutch investment fund. He considers the Berkshire annual meeting the “best one-day economic seminar in the world.”

“Buffett and Munger, they know what they are talking about. Most of the analysts, central bankers and politicians, even the world famous, are talking [BS] most of the time,” he says. 

A longtime devotee, van Winden doesn’t invest in Berkshire shares, but he implements Buffett’s way of thinking into his own investment strategy. He only invests in a small group of solid companies in Switzerland, the U.S. and the Netherlands.

“For 364 days of the year I hear all kinds of [BS] about how to invest. One day a year I hear very serious talk. I do not agree with everything both guys tell me. I do not invest in financials, for example, and I invest [some] in gold, but I take their comments very, very seriously,” he says.

Being a value investor like Buffett isn’t always easy but listening to arguably the top tandem of all time is like getting an annual “booster shot,” says Hardev Bains, president and portfolio manager of Lionridge Capital Management, a Winnipeg, Canada-based asset management firm.

“The news you read is really focused on the short term and short-term factors. One has to be emotionally vigilant that we’re not getting caught up in the psychology of the masses,” he says.

“When the market is zigging and you’re zagging, that can be very tough emotionally. (The Berkshire meeting) is an oasis of rational thinking.”