Warren Buffett Set to Discuss Pandemic, Markets at Berkshire’s Annual Meeting

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Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive

Warren Buffett

kicked off his firm’s annual meeting Saturday in Los Angeles with his business partner and top lieutenants in tow.

As the 90-year-old Mr. Buffett and his 97-year-old business partner

Charlie Munger

advance in age, succession has become a more important topic for shareholders. Some investors have asked to hear more from Mr. Buffett’s potential successors and vice chairmen Ajit Jain and

Greg Abel,

who respectively oversee the firm’s insurance business and operations. Both men are expected to join Messrs. Buffett and Munger in Los Angeles.

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The backdrop for Saturday’s meeting is in contrast with its first virtual meeting last year when the U.S. was in the early grips of the Covid-19 pandemic. With millions of American unemployed, Mr. Buffett spent much of the 2020 meeting emphasizing the economy’s ability to bounce back from adversity.

A year later, Mr. Buffett is speaking as the U.S. economy has broadly improved and 30% of Americans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The Omaha, Neb., conglomerate reported strong profits for the first quarter earlier in the day thanks to insurance and stock-market gains.

Berkshire runs a large insurance operation as well as railroad holdings, utilities, industrial manufacturers, retailers and auto dealerships. It also holds large investments, especially in the stock market. The diversity of Berkshire’s operations means Mr. Buffett is in a unique position to discuss both the state of the economy as well as markets.

Mr. Buffett has built his sprawling conglomerate as a vehicle for investors interested in long-term gains. As such, Berkshire operates a variety of different businesses that Mr. Buffett thinks will stand the test of time. The company also invests the “float” from the premiums its insurance customers pay.

Still, Berkshire faces some heightened pressure this year. Some of its shareholders want the conglomerate to bring in new directors and disclose more information on climate risks and executive pay. The company’s returns have trailed the S&P 500 for the past five-year period.

Berkshire’s Class A shares closed Friday at  $412,500, a decline of 1.3%.

Write to Geoffrey Rogow at geoffrey.rogow@wsj.com

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