Monday, April 26, 2010

Questions We’d Like to Hear: The NotMakingThisUp ‘Pilgrimage to Omaha’ Top Ten List

Well it’s that time of year again.

In a few days something like 35,000 people from literally all around the world will begin suffering United Airlines connections in Chicago, Minneapolis and elsewhere, for Omaha, where the only for-profit annual shareholder meeting among New York Stock Exchange-listed companies is about to take place: the Berkshire Hathaway meeting.

Or, as Warren Buffett likes to call it, “Woodstock for Capitalists.”

(Those Berkshire shareholders who do not suffer commercial airline connections to get to Omaha will either be driving or arriving in style courtesy of NetJets, which Berkshire naturally owns.)

As always, the heart of the three-day extravaganza will be the Saturday morning question-and-answer session held by Buffett and his acerbic Vice-Chairman, Charlie Munger (“The Abominable ‘No’-man,” as Buffett calls him).

When we attended the Berkshire meeting in 2008 while writing “Pilgrimage to Warren Buffett’s Omaha,” the question-and-answer session was dominated by non-financial, non-Berkshire questions, thanks to Buffett’s remarkably democratic question-selection technique (he simply called on anyone who got up early enough to grab a spot at one of the 12 or 13 microphones placed inside the Qwest Center arena).

That led to predominately “What Would Warren Do”-type of questions from adoring fans, as opposed to hard questions about Berkshire and its businesses.

Last year, Buffett refined the methodology, inserting three reporters into the mix to screen half the questions, and the result was a much sharper Q&A, without too much of the WWWD stuff. (Buffett, by the way, loves answering those “WWWD” questions—he’s a natural teacher; he likes the stage; and he’s smarter than anyone else in the room except Munger, so what the heck).

The only refinement at this year’s meeting will be that Buffett is adding 30 minutes to the 5-plus hour Q&A, so instead of handling the usual 50-55 questions, Buffett thinks he’ll be able to accommodate 60.

Which brings us to today’s topic: the Top Ten list of Questions We’d Like to Hear is back at these virtual pages.

Readers should submit their best question—the one they’d like to see Warren Buffett (or Charlie Munger) answer next Saturday in front of 35,000 people.

We’ll select the Top Ten, publish them here Friday and submit them to Andrew Ross Sorkin. (Let us know if you want your name used should Mr. Sorkin ask it.)

While there is no guarantee at all that any one of our Top Ten will make the cut, chances are most of them will be asked in one form or other. (Last year’s batting average was .800.)

Following the meeting we’ll publish how well our readers anticipated the reporters themselves.

Post 'em here, or send them to And soon.


Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

© 2010 NotMakingThisUp, LLC

The content contained in this blog represents only the opinions of Mr. Matthews, who also acts as an advisor: clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice, and should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever. Also, this blog is not a solicitation of business: all inquiries will be ignored. The content herein is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.


Anonymous said...

WWWD: I am almost 40, never married. Clearly, I am doing something wrong. How to best go about finding a partner to start a family with?

Kieran McCarthy said...

You've gone on the record as being critical of the Black-Scholes methodology for measuring the value of long-dated options, such as the long-dated S&P index puts that were sold by BRK in 2007. These options have introduced enormous volatility into BRK's reported earnings. If not Black-Scholes, what methodology would you suggest to value these types of derivatives, both from an accounting and a financial assessment perspective?

Colin P said...

Great question McCarthy, I wish I had submitted that.

Another great list to construct would be questions to ask Lloyd Blankfein, Fabulous Fab and other Goldman employees if we were members of Congress.

kg79 said...

question: what impact will the proposed rules requiring cash to be reserved to back Derivatives have on BRK? how much cash would be required to back BRK's current positions(or just the S&P put that BRK sold)?
if the rules take effect, would you be more inclined to pare back the position, or find more cash to put under another mattress?

aparantly these days congress is a financial WMD too :)