Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett defended the company’s investments over the past year on Saturday as the coronavirus pandemic initially sent stocks plummeting before the market recovered. and reach record levels. A year ago, when the pandemic took hold of him, Buffett sold all of his stakes in major airlines. It also reduced its stakes in several banking firms and did not make large acquisitions even as markets were falling sharply. Since then, the airline industry has been one of the largest to recover, and the overall market has exploded. Shareholders have questioned whether Buffett was active enough during a potentially opportunistic time.
“I don’t consider it a great moment in Berkshire history, but we have more net worth than any company in the world,” he said. “And I don’t want to own the airline business yet.” Buffett said the decision to downsize the airlines reflects a broader belief about the future of the industry, particularly when it comes to what is likely to happen with business travel. Buffett also addressed several other questions on Saturday, including the decision to hold the meeting in Los Angeles and commented on the company’s quarterly earnings. As Buffett, 90, and his 97-year-old business partner, Charlie Munger, grow older, succession has become a more important issue for shareholders. Some investors have asked to learn more about Buffett’s potential successors and vice presidents, Ajit Jain and Greg Abel, who respectively oversee the company’s insurance business and operations. Both men joined Buffett and Munger in Los Angeles. With millions of Americans unemployed, Buffett spent much of the 2020 meeting emphasizing the economy’s ability to bounce back from adversity. A year later, Buffett speaks as the US economy has vastly improved and 30% of Americans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Still, Berkshire BRK.B, -0.95% is facing increased pressure this year. Some of its shareholders want the conglomerate to hire new directors and disclose more information about climate risks and executive compensation. The company’s returns have lagged the S&P 500 for the past five years. Berkshire BRK.A Class A, -1.29% s hares closed Friday at $ 412,500, a 1.3% drop. An expanded version of this story appears on WSJ.com.