Berkshire Hathaway 1999 Annual Meeting Audience Question # 21

Warren buys a hundred shares of some companies to keep track of them

Warren Buffett:

Zone 8.

Audience Member:

Good morning Mr. Buffett, Mr. Munger. My name is Gary Rastrum from right here in Omaha.

My question is, somewhere I thought I’d read that you buy at least one share of every company on the New York… or on the exchanges… to get the annual report. Is that true or is that a thing of the past? And if it is true, how do you keep track of all that information?

Warren Buffett:

Well, it’s got an element of truth in it. Many years ago, I did buy one share of a great many companies. And I’d get these dividend checks for eight cents and 10 cents.

And I used to pay my bridge losses by endorsing these checks by the hundreds and giving them to the people who’d just won a dollar. And they… and then no one asked me to bridge games anymore.

So I have adopted a new program where I buy a hundred shares of a great many companies. Actually, I buy them in my foundation so I don’t go crazy at income tax time. And I probably, just as a guess, would have a couple hundred companies. So, it isn’t every company, by a long shot.

But there are at least several hundred companies where I want to be a registered shareholder, and… to make sure I get the mailings promptly. And I do keep those around. And I very… even after I lose interest, I very seldom sell one. So, I’ll just keep buying more.

And I’ll only buy a hundred shares in something I might want to keep track of, but I’ll probably buy a hundred shares in all of their competitors and… so that I keep reading about those companies as well.

It does pay to have a flow of information come in over the desk.

And the answer to that question reminds me of a point which I’d like to bring up, briefly, here.

And that is that our shareholders… unfortunately there’s no way around this… unless they go to the internet on the Saturday that we designate to read the annual report, and where it’s up on our home site, berkshirehathaway.com, are going to receive their reports at significantly different times.

And the ones who have their shares in their own names are very likely to get those reports faster than the ones that have it… have their shares held in street names. And from our standpoint, unfortunately, probably 90 percent of the shareholders we have, have their name… have their stock held in street names.

Now, what happens on that, is we print the reports up. We mail the ones to the shareholders who are of record, who have the stock in their own names. We send the balance to where their brokers or bankers tell us to send them.

About 90 percent go to one place in New Jersey, but that’s out of our control. I mean, if Merrill Lynch or Charles Schwab or whomever, Fidelity, turns their list over to that firm, they are the ones that mail the reports. We truck those reports back to them.

We may, next year, try to figure out a way to get them printed closer. But it’s out of our control when those reports go out. So our shareholders receive their reports on widely varying dates, which like I say, you know, I would rather not have that happen.

It means that in terms of sending in your request for tickets to this meeting, many people we had this year as late as maybe the 10th of April, still hadn’t gotten their reports. And they wondered about their tickets.

So if it’s convenient for you, you will… you know, it’s better to have your stock in your own name. Now, that isn’t convenient for many people. I understand that. But you will get our reports on a more reliable basis and a more prompt basis if you do it that way.

If you have your stock in street name, you know, I urge you to look on those dates we’ve laid out in the report for next year, to click onto our homepage. Because then you will have the information just as quickly as everybody… as your fellow shareholder does.

We want very much to have a level playing field. And we want everyone to have access to the information as close to simultaneously as possible and during a time when the market is not open.

We think that just makes sense. That’s the way we’d do it if we were running a partnership.

But there is this problem with street name holdings of somewhat erratic distribution. And that’s the reason why, when I want to keep track of, say, all of the companies in the pharmaceutical industry, I’ll buy a hundred shares of each one and I’ll stick them in the name of the foundation. And that mailing comes directly to me in Omaha.

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