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posted: 5/4/2013 2:46 PM

What's happening at the capitalists' Woodstock

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  • Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., spins a basketball on a pen Saturday as he stands with a member of the Harlem Globetrotters during a tour of the exhibition floor prior to the start of the Berkshire shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.

      Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., spins a basketball on a pen Saturday as he stands with a member of the Harlem Globetrotters during a tour of the exhibition floor prior to the start of the Berkshire shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.
    Associated Press

 
By Associated Press

Dubbed "Woodstock for Capitalists," Saturday's annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders revolves around Warren Buffett, the company's founder and a billionaire investor. Here's a rundown of what's happening at the day-long event in Omaha, Neb.:

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Before facing questions from a crowd of more than 30,000, the 82-year-old Buffett toured the meeting's 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall. A pack of security guards created a buffer around the "Oracle of Omaha" as he visited displays that sold Berkshire's See's Candy, explained BNSF railroad's virtues and highlighted some of the company's other 80-plus subsidiaries.

At the See's booth, Buffett got a lesson in making hand-dipped bonbons. Then See's manufacturing manager Steve Powell got Buffett to autograph his white uniform coat, demonstrating that employees are nearly as excited about meeting Buffett as shareholders.

"He was right there. Why not? It's Mr. Buffett," said Powell, explaining why he asked for the autograph. "He's wonderful."

Powell said he'll probably frame the coat and display it at work when he returns to California.

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BUFFETT'S SUCCESSOR:

Berkshire's board knows who it would pick as CEO if Buffett died tonight, but the top candidates could change over time, Buffett said. He has no plans to retire.

He spends plenty of time thinking about the future of his company after he is gone, he said. He told shareholders Saturday that he's confident that the conglomerate will continue to thrive.

The leaders of Berkshire's roughly 80 subsidiaries and all the operating companies would reject a leader that tried to change the way the company works, he said.

Buffett leads Berkshire with a tiny staff of roughly two dozen at its headquarters, and he largely lets the CEOs of all Berkshire's subsidiaries make all the operating decisions.

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MINERS PROTEST:

Dozens of Utah coal miners picketed outside the doors of the annual meeting in downtown Omaha.

The protesters are members of United Mine Workers of America who work at Deer Creek mine near Huntington, Utah. The mine is run by a subsidiary of Berkshire's MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co.

The union's contract expired in January. The company and union are negotiating, but disagree on health care coverage and safety checks. The protesters hope to influence Buffett.

Bernie Morris of Price, Utah, stood in the rain with others Saturday to hand out flyers. The 67-year-old Morris said he's worked for the coal mine for 28 years. He feared that he and his wife won't be able to afford the monthly health insurance premium the company wants to charge miners and retirees.

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PAPER PROFITS?:

Berkshire shareholders should expect decent returns on the newspapers the company has bought in recent years, Buffett said. But he doesn't expect the papers to generate enough profits to make much difference to Berkshire.

Berkshire has paid cheap enough prices for the newspapers that Buffett expects them to deliver 10 percent returns every year, but he also expects their earnings will keep declining.

Berkshire has acquired 28 daily newspapers over the past two years.

Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger pointed out that Buffett made an exception to his usual investing habits for newspapers because he likes them.

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