Betting against Berkshire? 'Bear' has chance to question Buffett

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Posted: Sunday, March 3, 2013 12:00 am

Warren Buffett is looking for a naysayer.

The chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said in his letter to shareholders Friday that he wants a “credentialed bear on Berkshire” to be one of six people asking him questions at the company's annual shareholder meeting in Omaha on May 4.

That means a registered investment professional who thinks Berkshire will lose value and is making investment “bets” against the Omaha investment company.

Buffett said questions from someone negative on Berkshire will “spice things up” during the five-hour question-and-answer session that makes up the bulk of the meeting. Three journalists and two financial analysts already selected also will ask questions, taking turns with ordinary shareholders. Buffett estimated 54 questions would be asked and answered.

“We know the journalists and analysts will come up with some tough ones, and that's the way we like it,” Buffett said.

Interested bears can inquire at Berkshire's world headquarters in Omaha.

Disappointment in Margaritaville

The cartoon portrays a scene enacted daily at many newspapers: the editorial page editor walks past the editorial cartoonist's cubicle to see what's going on.

In this case, Tulsa World cartoonist Bruce Plante has learned that Buffett is buying the newspaper, and editor David Averill stops by and breaks the news: Businessman Warren, not laid-back singer Jimmy, will be the new owner of the Oklahoma newspaper.

Plante's caricature of himself has all the accoutrements of a Jimmy Buffett fan, from the Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops to the margarita machine perched on his desk. You can almost hear “Margaritaville” playing in the background.

Warren has claimed that Jimmy is a distant cousin, and the two have appeared on each other's stages in Omaha — Jimmy at the 2007 Berkshire shareholder meeting and Warren at Jimmy's concert in Omaha last year.

But the guy who buys newspapers is Warren.

Elephant-sized guesses accepted

Buffett says he's still hunting for “elephants” — giant companies he can purchase for $5 billion or more — so we'll keep our elephant-guessing contest open, too.

We counted Berkshire's pending investment in H.J. Heinz Co. as an elephant, and none of our entries had picked that food company to claim our prize, a World-Herald/Berkshire messenger bag, plus bragging rights.

So we'll keep the existing guesses on hand for the contest and accept any new ideas, via e-mail to the address below or via regular mail to Steve Jordon, The World-Herald, 1314 Douglas St., Suite 700, Omaha, NE 68102.

One entry per person, please, and we aren't counting a buyback of Berkshire stock or “bolt-on” acquisitions by existing Berkshire subsidiaries.

Buffett has about $15 billion available for such purchases, not counting the $20 billion he keeps on hand to give Berkshire a strong financial position. Surely someone out there can guess what he'll bag next.

'Secret' advice is out on DVD

If your retirement plan is to have a grandchild become a successful entrepreneur, you might want to look into the DVD of past episodes of Buffett's animated series, “Secret Millionaire's Club,” which goes on sale March 19 for $14.93.

Buffett's cartoon character, which he voices himself, teaches kids about business and how to invest through various adventures. In one episode, friends Radley, Elena and Jones help their school raise money to replace their school's music program, field trips and other activities eliminated by budget cuts.

Buffett helps the trio discover that the best investment they can make is in themselves. Other voices on the DVD include Jay Z and Shaquille O'Neal.

The new season, from Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment and A Square Entertainment, starts online this month at the Hub Network.

Giving a listen to country music

Buffett must be listening to country music on occasion, according to CMT.com, a website that tracks the industry.

On CNBC recently, Buffett said the U.S. economy is improving. While there always will be problems ahead, he said, “I always go with that new country song, every storm runs out of rain.”

That's the title of a song, “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” by Gary Allan, who also sings, “Every heartache will fade away.”

Was Heinz CEO an acquisition target?

Bill Johnson, who became CEO of Heinz in 1998 and chairman in 2000, may chafe at taking input from the company's new owners, according to a profile of him by Teresa F. Lindeman at the Post-Gazette of Pittsburgh, Heinz's headquarters city.

Some in the food industry think Berkshire and 3G Capital wanted to acquire Johnson and his management team as much as the company itself, describing him as “intense, insightful and even brilliant.”

Johnson has been involved in dozens of acquisitions and sales, the story said, closing plants and cutting jobs that didn't fit his strategy but opening plants and adding jobs elsewhere to spread the company's products worldwide.

“Bill took them every place people want to create good foods,” said Gary Stibel, CEO of the New England Consulting Group, of Norwalk, Conn.

Johnson also teared up during a global town hall meeting to talk about the sale with employees in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, the story said, because he knows Heinz's traditions and history as a family-founded business.

The company will keep its name and headquarters, continue charitable donations and retain its naming rights for Heinz Field, home of the Steelers.

Gupta ordered to reimburse Goldman

Rajat Gupta, the former director of Goldman Sachs who tipped off a hedge fund manager about Buffett's plan to invest $5billion in Goldman, will have to pay $6.2million to reimburse the investment bank for its internal investigation into the case, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Gupta, who called fund manager Raj Rajaratnam 16 seconds after the end of a meeting when he and other directors learned of Buffett's plan, is appealing his conviction and two-year prison term.

U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff ordered the payment. The Journal said Gupta can afford it, since he had a net worth of $84.1million in April 2008, plus a trust worth $38.6 million.

The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1080, steve.jordon@owh.com, twitter.com/buffettOWH

Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald. To purchase rights to republish this article, please contact The World-Herald Store.


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