Buffett speaks
This weekend, thousands will be making the annual pilgrimage to Omaha to hear what's on the mind of the world's best investor.
By Jason Zweig, MONEY Magazine senior editor

NEW YORK (MONEY) - They're on the move. Somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 people are converging on Omaha, Nebraska, this weekend from every state in the union and at least two dozen countries outside the United States.

The pilgrims are marching to the ultimate investing Mecca -- the annual meeting of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (Research). They come to party, shop (at shareholder discount prices) at Berkshire's affiliated stores, and soak up the wisdom of Buffett and his investing sidekick, Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charles Munger.

What's on Buffett's mind this year? If his annual report, released in March, is any guide, he will:

  • lambaste corporate boards of directors for overpaying too many underachieving CEOs,
  • sound an alarm about America's balance-of-trade deficit and the danger it poses to the strength of the US dollar,
  • criticize mutual funds and, especially, hedge funds for overcharging and under-delivering,
  • remind his listeners repeatedly about what is important both in business and in life, and
  • take several questions about who will succeed him as CEO, but decline to identify his successor, or even the names of the three most likely candidates.

For his part, Munger will reinforce Buffett's arguments with his own laconic gloss. (Among Munger's favorite words are stupid, crazy and idiotic.)

Beyond the sea of shareholders, there is a smaller, more influential audience at Buffett's meeting: Hundreds of the world's top money managers come to listen to his views.

For a weekend, Omaha hosts the world's biggest and best investment club. Christopher Davis, who oversees more than $60 billion at Davis Advisors in New York, is flying 10 members of his investment team out to Omaha. He's attended every meeting for years on end, but he still feels it's worth the trip.

"While we hear the same thing each year," says Davis, "I also hear the same thing each Sunday in church. Both venues still provide useful reminders!"

Matthew Sauer of the $218 million Oak Value Fund in Durham, NC, will come with three of his colleagues. Says Sauer: "We enjoy the opportunity to mingle with accomplished investors and visit with some of the Berkshire managers. And the ability to hear Mr. Buffett opine on investments in general is extremely useful."

You never know who you might bump into in Omaha this weekend -- it could be anyone from Bill Gates to Arnold Schwarzenegger to singer (and Warren's distant cousin) Jimmy Buffett.

When Buffett isn't speaking, Berkshire's shareholders will have a great time gorging on steak, slurping down Dairy Queen ice cream, shopping for discount items at Nebraska Furniture Mart, even buying cheap Fruit of the Loom underwear at the insider-price booth inside the Qwest convention center where Buffett's meeting takes place.

Many stores in Omaha will do nearly as much business this weekend as they do the entire rest of the year combined. The flood of cash even trickles down to Ozzie Walker, the shoeshine man in Omaha's airport.

"Business has been plenty fine," he told me with a smile last year. "All these people are nice, and they sure leave pretty good tips." Stay tuned for a sample of pretty good investing tips from Buffett and Munger.

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