News Column

Buffett grilled over investment slips, lags

May 5, 2014

OMAHA: Warren Buffett defended his recent vote on executive pay at Coca-Cola and disappointing performance at railway BNSF as investors grilled him on his Berkshire Hathaway Inc conglomerate at its annual shareholder meeting at the weekend.

The investment guru was peppered with questions following concerns that Berkshire last year missed Buffett's five-year growth target for the first time in his 49 years at the helm.

Buffett, 83, pictured, and his partner and company vice-chairman, Charlie Munger, 90, faced off with the audience and a hand-picked panel.

He said Berkshire was designed to perform best when markets were at their worst - unlike last year's 30 percent jump in the S&P 500.

Buffett said last week he thought Coca-Cola's equity compensation plan excessive, but Berkshire abstained in the shareholders' vote. On Saturday, Buffett said "going to war" probably would not have been productive.

He also talked about the social pressures of board votes on compensation plans.

"The social dynamics are important in board actions," he said.

A report on results noted weather-related disruptions at BNSF, and on Saturday Buffett spoke of investing "many billions" to improve operations.

That gains in the company's worth over five years lagged returns in the Standard & Poor's 500 index prompted questions on whether the so-called Oracle of Omaha was finding it harder to generate the stellar returns he had delivered for decades, particularly as the company had grown so big it needed larger deals to make a difference to the bottom line. - Reuters

Cape Argus

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Source: Cape Argus (South Africa)

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