Buffett Picks His ‘Bear’ for Annual Meeting

Warren Buffett
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Warren Buffett

Buffett has found his bear.

In his letter to shareholders published on Friday, Warren E. Buffett said that "to spice things up" he wanted to find a money manger with an unfavorable view of Berkshire Hathaway to participate in the company's annual meeting.

"The only requirement is that you be an investment professional and negative on Berkshire," he wrote.

On Monday, Mr. Buffett said Doug Kass, a hedge fund manager, would be added to the panel of analysts who question Mr. Buffett and Berkshire's vice chairman, Charles T. Munger, on stage during Berkshire's annual gathering in Omaha on May 4.

Mr. Kass is a well-known stock picker by virtue of his writings for the financial Web site, TheStreet.com, and frequent appearances on CNBC.

"I am flattered, honored and surprised," Mr. Kass, 63, who runs Seabreeze Partners Management in Palm Beach, Fla., said in an interview.

(Read More: You Tweet, Buffett Answers)

Mr. Buffett, who is famous for his swift decision-making when it comes to business, wasted no time in picking his "Berkshire bear." But also credit Mr. Kass for taking the bull by the horns, so to speak.

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Mr. Kass said he had read the Berkshire letter as soon as it came out, just as he had done for the last 40 years. After seeing Mr. Buffett's solicitation, he began preparing a proposal. Mr. Kass, who is short Berkshire stock, wrote a piece in March 2008 for TheStreet.com, "Kass Katch: 11 Reasons to Short Berkshire" that laid out his rationale for betting against Mr. Buffett's company.

"I have worshiped at the altar of Warren Buffett since the late 1970s," Mr. Kass wrote. "Indeed my writings over the last seven years have often been punctuated with Buffett-isms."

(Read More: How Doug Kass Became Buffett's Bear)

Yet Mr. Kass wrote that Berkshire faced a number of "headwinds." He cited Mr. Buffett's advanced age (he is now 82), explaining that "there will never be another Warren Buffett." He also noted that Berkshire's large size could impede returns, pointing out that even Mr. Buffett had written that the company's asset base was too large to make outsize gains in the future.

So on Saturday, while watching the Kansas-West Virginia college basketball game, Mr. Kass prepared an application to present to Mr. Buffett. He included bearish Berkshire articles from The Street, as well as a presentation he gave at a value-investing conference last year, in which he advocated shorting the United States bond market.

He also included his rsum, which highlighted that he began his career as a housing analyst at the investment bank Kidder Peabody and later worked for the hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman, who runs Omega Advisors.

Mr. Kass, who said he had never met Mr. Buffett, also supplied him with a list of references of other investors who know Mr. Buffett, including Howard Marks, the chairman of Oaktree Capital Management, and Mario Gabelli, the head of Gamco Investors.

Finally, he asked the CNBC co-hosts Becky Quick and Andrew Ross Sorkin to help get his e-mail to Mr. Buffett. Ms. Quick and Mr. Sorkin, the DealBook columnist, are two of the three journalists who ask Mr. Buffett questions at the meeting.

On Monday morning, in a live CNBC interview with Ms. Quick from La Vista, Neb., Mr. Buffett announced that he had selected Mr. Kass.

"Think of tough questions," Mr. Buffett said to Mr. Kass on the air. "See if you can drive the stock down 10 percent."

Mr. Kass was in his Palm Beach office, preparing for the trading day while CNBC played in the background, when he heard Mr. Buffett make the announcement.

"I was as shocked as everyone else," said Mr. Kass, who grew up in Rockville Centre, N.Y., on Long Island.

He will join two Berkshire "bulls," the insurance analyst Cliff Gallant of Nomura Securities and Jonathan Brandt of Ruane, Cunniff & Goldfarb, on stage at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.

And even though Mr. Kass will present a negative view on Mr. Buffett's company, he acknowledges that deep down, he is still an unabashed fan.

"I can't wait to take a picture with him," Mr. Kass said.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 4, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated Doug Kass's investment position in Berkshire Hathaway. He is shorting the stock; it is not the case that he was "not currently" short the company's shares.