Bill and Cheryl Glaser, Carson City-area residents, are winging their way today to Nebraska and their 12th Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual meeting.
The Glasers have attended the Omaha event most years since their first trip there in 1998. That year, it attracted a few thousand to what is known widely as “Woodstock for Capitalists.” But last year, on their 11th trip in 14 years, the Northern Nevada retirees joined Berkshire stockholders and their families to swell a crowd 38,000 strong.
“You’ve got to get there early to get a good seat,” said Glaser, an Omaha native and one of Berkshire Chairman/CEO Warren Buffett’s longtime fans. Nebraska’s most populous city, Omaha is headquarters to Buffett’s mega-conglomerate; it’s also the city where the 82-year-old investor and philanthropist grew up, though years before Glaser.
Buffett’s holding company now owns BNSF Railway, one of the nation’s largest railway companies; GEICO, the country’s third-largest private-passenger auto insurer; Shaw Industries, the world’s largest maker of tufted broadloom carpet; The Buffalo News and 27 other daily newspapers; R.C. Willey Home Furnishings; Clayton Homes; Fruit of the Loom; Dairy Queen; See’s Candies; and a host of other companies.
It also owns significant blocs of stock in such leading companies as American Express, Coca-Cola, IBM and Wells Fargo.
The Glasers enjoy their time in Omaha by attending the meeting by catching up with Bill’s brother, Mike, still a Nebraskan. Their visit with Mike and sister-in-law Joyce normally includes a round of golf with Mike in Elmwood, near Omaha. Weather permitting, it will be again this year, on Friday.
That evening, plans are to attend an event at Borsheims, a large Omaha jewelry and gift store owned by Berkshire that shareholders inundate for pre-meeting enjoyment and, later in the weekend, to seek deals. In fact, many Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries set up places to provide deals on goods or services during the weekend.
Saturday’s meeting is in the $291 million CenturyLink Center downtown, which handles blockbuster concerts, major sporting events and large conventions as well as Buffett’s annual meeting. Buffett and Charlie Munger, Berkshire vice chairman, take questions from shareholders for hours each year. Straight talk punctuated by humor dots the day.
Glaser said he followed his fellow Nebraskan’s career for years but had waited two decades to buy stock because A shares kept zooming higher, and the less-expensive B shares didn’t come along until later.
“It was always just out of our reach,” he said. But in 1997, he and Cheryl took the plunge and have been enjoying the fruits of Buffett’s labors since. When they actually met him early on in their treks to Omaha at a Dairy Queen, Cheryl recalls, she was enthralled.
“I thought I was with, like, a rock star,” she said.
For financiers and investors, she was right on. For many, Buffett looms larger than Elvis did to 1950s teenagers. A glance at the company’s 2012 annual report tells why.
The report — which isn’t slick like others, and is bereft of photographs — sticks to facts and covers minuses as well as pluses as Buffett sees them.
It lists growth in per-share book value of Berkshire from 1965-2012 at 586,817 percent without dividends, or 19.7 percent annually. Buffett calls that intrinsic value. With Buffett, the divided is appreciation in value. Buffett’s 48-year record compares with just 7,433 percent growth, or 9.4 percent per year, for the S&P 500, dividends included.
True to form, however, Buffett notes the company’s 2012 growth was just 14.4 percent, under the year’s S&P growth of 16 percent. He wrote he never could have dreamed a $24 billion year would be below par.
“But subpar it was,” he said. “For the ninth time in 48 years, Berkshire’s percentage increase in book value was less than the S&P’s percentage gain.”
Yet he also notes in eight of those nine years, the S&P gain was 15 percent or more, and added this clincher about savvy sailing through stormy seas: “We do better when the wind is in our face.” Proof is as clear as comparative figures for 2008, a dismal year. Berkshire then dropped 9.6 percent; the S&P sank 37 percent.