Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-A) (NYSE: BRK-B) annual meeting was recently held, and unlike most annual meetings, this event -- often called the "Woodstock of Capitalism" -- was attended by tens of thousands of shareholders and watched at home by many more.
The reason for the popularity? Berkshire's annual meeting features nearly an entire day of Q&A with CEO Warren Buffett and his right-hand man Charlie Munger, two of the most respected investors of all time.
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Buffett is known for his quotable answers to shareholder questions, and this year was no different. It was difficult narrowing it down, but here are five Warren Buffett quotes Berkshire shareholders, and investors in general, need to hear.
1. "If things get bad enough, you don't have to worry about them calling us. No matter what."
One shareholder asked if Berkshire will find it more difficult to buy companies once Buffett is no longer the CEO. And this is certainly a fair question -- after all, Buffett is 87 and Munger is 94. While we hope they live well into their 100s, they aren't going to be at the helm forever.
Buffett said this in reference to the company's reputation of doing big value-adding deals during tough times, thanks to its cash-rich balance sheet. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Buffett made highly successful investments in Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, among others.
In a nutshell, Buffett isn't worried about this after he's gone, thanks to Berkshire's stellar reputation and history of letting the management teams of acquired companies stay on.
2. "Our problem is size, not geography"
This quote was in response to a question about investing in emerging markets, and Buffett reiterated that while he isn't necessarily opposed to investing in foreign companies, he still sees lots of potential in the U.S.
As he's said many times before, Berkshire's size has become its biggest obstacle to generating outstanding returns. In his 2014 letter to shareholders, which marked Berkshire's 50th year under Buffett's management, Buffett advised his investors that the next 50 years of returns at Berkshire won't even come close to the last 50. The reason is that it's extremely difficult to find meaningful value-adding acquisitions when your company is half a trillion dollars in size. With less money, it's far easier to find opportunities that can seriously move the needle, but as Berkshire has grown, it's become more and more difficult.
3. "We will be in the reinsurance business five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now and 50 years from now."
This one may not appear on any "top Buffett quotes" list years from now, but in the present, it was one of the most important things said. Simply put, it tells shareholders that Berkshire's core business -- reinsurance -- is and will remain a major focus.
In response to falling prices, Berkshire has written less reinsurance in recent years, but Buffett believes that it will continue to grow, especially General Re.
4. "Cryptocurrencies will come to bad endings."
It's been no secret that Buffett is a harsh critic of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, so it's not much of a surprise that when asked about it at the annual meeting, Buffett restated these views.
As an investment, Buffett feels, cryptocurrencies don't make sense because they don't produce anything (in the sense that stocks produce earnings, bonds produce income, farms produce crops, etc.) and because they have no intrinsic value. Buffett believes the only force that's fueling cryptocurrency prices is the idea that investors will be able to sell it at a higher price.
5. "We want products where people feel like kissing you instead of slapping you."
When asked about how he chooses consumer products to invest in, Buffett used the example of people using an American Express card and a Diner's Club card to pay for things -- the first, people are proud to use, and merchants are glad to use, which is what Buffett looks for. He also used this principle to explain other investments, such as Coca-Cola and Apple.
In short, Buffett won't invest in anything unless he knows how consumers feel about the product. In fact, Buffett and Munger both say that they would have turned down an opportunity to invest in Coca-Cola right after it had been invented -- there would simply have been no way to gauge its market reception.
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Matthew Frankel owns shares of American Express, Apple, Bank of America, and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends American Express. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.