Buffett Watch

Buffettstock One Decade Rewind:  CNBC Goes to the 1998 Berkshire Hathaway Weekend

Warren Buffett fans from around the world are heading to Omaha for the that gets underway tomorrow (Friday night) and gets into full swing on Saturday as Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger spend several hours answering shareholder questions.  (Warren Buffett Watch will feature live minute-by-minute dispatches from that session, starting around 10:30a ET.)

This is not a dull, corporate affair.  The weekend is essentially an enormous party, hosted by Buffett himself.  He calls it 'Woodstock for Capitalists.'  We're calling it Buffettstock '08.

We thought it would be interesting to see how CNBC covered Buffettstock '98 one decade ago.  So intern Cindy Liu went digging through the dusty archives and found two Scott Cohn reports and an interview with Buffett from the 1998 annual meeting.  Among other things, you'll learn how to keep your spouse and shareholders happy.

CNBC.com's video guy notes that Scott looks very young in these clips, while Buffett hasn't changed a bit.  Scott just laughed when I mentioned it to him.

1998 Berkshire Meeting, Pt. 2

Scott Cohn: It's the one weekend a year the normally quiet billionaire practically throws himself at the public. As many as 11,0000 shareholders, 3,000 more than last year.

Shareholder: Where else would you be able to get so close with someone as wealthy and as powerful as Warren Buffett?

Scott: A record 42 news organizations from around the world showed up as well, after hearing Buffett would hold a rare news conference.

Buffett: Well, you people are hard up for something to do. (Laughter.) No, obviously when the stock goes up a lot, it creates interest and we've got a lot more shareholders.

Scott: What started in the 1960s as an annual get-together for the handful of early Buffett believers has turned into a three-day festival. Buffett calls it 'Woodstock Weekend.' Saturday night at the ballgame. Buffett is part-owner of Omaha's triple-A team. A Sunday shopping spree at Borsheim's Jewelry Store. Buffett owns that, too. And this year, an added event. Ice cream at a local Dairy Queen. He recently bought that company, too. But the culmination is an extraordinary six-hour question-and-answer session conducted by Buffett and his sidekick, Vice Chairman Charlie Munger. Ask the most successful investor of all time anything at all, and he'll try to answer, without notes.

Buffett: It's just easier that way. I mean, if you have to prepare, there's something wrong. There's really nothing to it. And they're asking me about something I spend all my time at.

Scott: Do you think of a message you want to get out to people, that people should take away from this weekend?

Buffett: No, I know what I think. And Charlie knows what he thinks. And we may even disagree on something. But if somebody asks us, we tell 'em. You know, it would be exactly like talking to you right now.

Scott: Which is what the faithful are here for, a chance to learn something, anything, and if they're lucky to rub elbows with the master.   Scott Cohn, Today's Business, Omaha.


1998 Berkshire Meeting, Pt. 1

As part of his coverage of the 1998 Berkshire annual meeting, Scott asked Buffett about the then high-flying U.S. stock market.

Buffett: Things that go up, and stocks, don't necessarily have to come down. I mean, businesses get worth more over time and they should sell for more over time as they become worth more. But the real question is, if returns on equity would return to 13 or 14 percent for American business or if interest rates went up substantially, then we would look back and say this was a time of overvaluation. But, I don't know the answer on that today and I've never said I knew the answer.

Scott Cohn: You're putting your bets on things like commodities, silver, oil, bonds ..

Buffett: Those are minor positions. No, our big money is in businesses. We own, at present market, 15 billion dollars worth of Coca-Cola and we own a number of operating businesses. So we love to own great businesses run by people we admire and trust. So that's, the other stuff is around the edges.

Scott: I guess what I'm wondering though is, the money that you have parked there, you've made a decision to do that. Is that something that people should follow your lead. Can they be as successful as you seem to have been in those areas?

Buffett: No, I think people should follow their own lead. They should decide what they know and understand and what they have competence in. And then they should do that, whatever that may be.

Scott: Let me ask you about Berkshire Hathaway stock. It seems to keep going up and up and up. You've talked before about whether you'd buy it ... You've been silent on that this year. Would you buy it at this price?

Buffett: I haven't bought a share of Berkshire Hathaway in a long, long time, but I haven't sold a share either.

You'll be able to see a more recent interview with Buffett, as Becky Quick rolls out an exclusive one-on-one conversation tomorrow (Friday) morning on CNBC's Squawk Box, which starts at 6am ET.  We'll also post video clips and transcripts right here on the blog.


In this report from the 1998 Berkshire meeting on a Buffett/Munger news conference, CNBC's Scott Cohn reveals what Buffett and Munger believe is the key to keeping your spouse, and shareholders, happy.

1998 Berkshire Meeting, Pt. 3

Warren Buffett: Fundamentals don't change that much. If you look at silver demand, it's relatively inelastic, production's relatively inelastic, so there's really nothing to change, really can change it dramatically.

Reporter: The price ...

Buffett: Well, price can change it, but because its relatively inelastic, price does not change it a lot.

Scott Cohn: While Buffett has continued dabbling in commodities, he's still not buying stocks with prices so high. As a result, he said, his cash position has been drifting higher as Berkshire Hathaway reallocates its resources.

Buffett: We change the ratio a little bit between stocks and bonds based on valuation, not based on predictions of what the markets would do. And that means we had to sell a little of several things. Everything we've ever sold has turned out to be worth more money later on. There's something, well, incidentally that's part of good investing. I mean, if you think you're going to sell something at the top, all you're saying then is you really think you're going to succeed with the bigger fool theory. We want to sell things to people who then make a lot of money out of them, and we've done it all our lives.

Scott: Among the stocks Buffett sold: McDonald's, without explanation until now.

Buffett: Obviously we owned less McDonalds at year-end 1997 than '96. We think it's absolutely first-rate company and it's a big, big brand. The fast-food business might be a little tougher than I would have thought earlier, but McDonald's will do very well in the future.

Scott: Buffett also talked about Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, reveling in a stock price that continues to soar. And that concerns him.

Buffett: If you ask Charlie (Munger) what the secret of a successful marriage is, Charlie will say that it's low expectations. (Laughter.) And that quality, if your spouse has it, makes the marriage very likely to last forever. And obviously with shareholders, it's better if they have low expectations than high expectations.

Reporter: They don't have low expectations.

Buffett: That is a problem. And we do what we can to have the expectations be realistic.

Scott: Would you buy Berkshire stock at this price?

Buffett: We'll get asked that tomorrow, and I'll, I will say this: I haven't sold any.

Current Berkshire price:

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