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Buffett's bash begins Saturday in Omaha

Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting to include Q&A, pingpong, barbecue.

OMAHA, Neb. (Reuters) -- Last Saturday, Billy Joel, 57, rocked some 17,000-plus people at Omaha's Qwest Center, the Piano Man's first concert in the city in 21 years.

This Saturday, several thousand more people are set to be rocked there by a hometown favorite, nearly two decades older, who plays the ukulele and isn't known for carrying a tune.
Warren Buffett
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Mr. Joel, meet Mr. Buffett.

A long line of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (Charts, Fortune 500) shareholders will queue before the arena's 7 a.m. opening for the annual meeting of Warren Buffett's company.

The meeting is the centerpiece of a weekend the world's second-richest person calls "Woodstock for Capitalists."

"It's the very best of American capitalism," said Mohnish Pabrai, who invests $500 million, including $30 million in Berkshire, at Pabrai Investment Funds in Irvine, California.

"For nutcases like me, it's like being at Woodstock," said Pabrai, who was five during the 1969 music festival. "I was in Mumbai at the time, it was a little hard to go." He's attending his 10th Berkshire meeting.

Berkshire owns more than 50 companies and at year end invested $61.5 billion in stocks such as Coca-Cola Co (Charts, Fortune 500)., American Express Co. (Charts) and Procter & Gamble Co. (Charts, Fortune 500)

According to Forbes magazine, Buffett's $52 billion net worth trails only that of Microsoft Corp.'s (Charts, Fortune 500) Bill Gates, a Berkshire director and bridge partner.

The year has been eventful for Buffett. In June, he won wide acclaim for pledging 85 percent of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and four family charities. Two months later, he remarried on his 76th birthday.

He's not young for a CEO of a company worth about $167 billion. Berkshire succession is on many people's minds, including Buffett's.

Buffett plans to split the jobs of chief executive, for which he has three internal candidates, and chief investment officer, for which he has none young enough to serve a long time. Many who want the CIO job will attend the meeting.

Sharing values

Along with the baseball College World Series, Berkshire's meeting is arguably Omaha's biggest annual event.

It won't entirely be a lovefest. A shareholder resolution urges Berkshire to divest its PetroChina Co. stake amid claims the oil company's parent invests in war-torn Sudan.

Crowds are expected to top last year's 24,000. Attendance is up fivefold since Berkshire in 1996 created Class B shares that made it easier for ordinary people to own stock. Class A shares, worth $12 in 1965, now fetch close to $110,000.

Shai Dardashti, 23, said he runs a fund modeled after an early Buffett partnership. He's been to two annual meetings but is skipping this year's, though he's in Omaha. Buffett's general views are well known, and Dardashti wants more.

"Meeting people who share similar values helps me recalibrate my own for the better," he said.

Berkshire said it will release quarterly results Friday afternoon. Festivities begin that evening with cocktails at Borsheim's, a Berkshire-owned jeweler west of downtown. They end Sunday with steak dinner at Buffett favorite Gorat's.

At Borsheim's, the Berkshire-themed Monopoly game, which sold more than 10,000 copies in 2005 and 2006, will be back. Shoppers can buy $30 plates showing cartoon images of Buffett and his feisty 83-year-old lieutenant, Charlie Munger.

Dissing Charlie Munger

At the annual meeting, shareholders can shop for Berkshire products such as Benjamin Moore paint, Dairy Queen ice cream and Geico car insurance.

The philatelic-minded can pick up 5,000 sheets of "U.S. Capitalist" stamps (unsuitable for mailing) featuring likenesses of Buffett and Munger.

After the usual comedic and historical movie montage produced by Buffett's daughter Susie, Buffett and Munger will for several hours patiently answer questions about pretty much anything, apart from what Berkshire is buying now.

"If you decide to leave during the day's question periods, please do so while Charlie is talking," Buffett cautioned in his Feb. 28 shareholder letter.

As for PetroChina, Buffett opposes divestment but agrees that conditions in Sudan are "deplorable." To encourage debate, he offered tickets to some protesters who otherwise wouldn't get into the meeting.

Afterward, it's off to Berkshire's Nebraska Furniture Mart for the traditional "barbecue," this year with beef and chicken tacos - it's Cinco de Mayo - and "hamburgers for traditionalists like me," Buffett said.

On Sunday, under a Borsheim's tent, Buffett will play pingpong against Ariel Hsing, an 11-year-old champion from San Jose, California. Buffett and Gates played bridge there last year, Borsheim's Chief Executive Susan Jacques said.

"It's not a common sight, the wealthiest men in the world playing bridge as if they were at a garden party," she said. Top of page

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