Much of Berkshire’s relative outperformance came decades ago when it was much smaller, and even Buffett has called the company’s huge size an “anchor on investment performance.”
Buffett has said Berkshire owns 10 businesses big enough to make the Fortune 500 list of large U.S. companies on their own.
But details can be thin. For example, aircraft parts maker Precision Castparts, acquired last year for $32.1 billion, merited about a page in Berkshire’s annual report.
Precision’s final annual report, in 2015, ran 87 pages.
“It’s a large, large organization,” said Jeffrey Stacey, founder of Stacey Muirhead Capital Management in Waterloo, Ontario, who is attending his 26th straight meeting. “I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt because the track record has been so good for so long.”
Buffett said in February that boosting disclosure could put many Berkshire businesses at a disadvantage, and that “it’s the growth of the Berkshire forest that counts.”
He also knows the perils of conglomerates, saying in 2015 that dubious accounting, self-promotion, and mediocre businesses make them “richly deserve” their “terrible” reputation.
Buffett says Berkshire is different, in part because he took Munger’s advice to buy wonderful businesses at fair prices.
Shareholders enjoy that focus less than they once did.
Berkshire’s share price has slightly lagged the Standard & Poor’s 500 including dividends during the eight-year bull market, but has outperformed since the global financial crisis mushroomed in September 2008.
Shields, who is not attending Saturday’s meeting, wants Buffett to reveal more, even if shareholders can “safely assume” his eventual successor as chief executive is top-flight.