UPDATE: 4:24 p.m. EDT — Business magnate Warren Buffett, speaking at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting, touched on the U.S. presidential election as well as a slate of other topics. Buffett, who has endorsed Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton, said he isn’t concerned about the regulatory impact on Berkshire if the leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, becomes the next U.S. president, Reuters reported.“That won’t be the main problem,” he said. The audience of tens of thousands responded with laughter.
Buffett also addressed several of the company's recent controversial large investments, including Coca-Cola. Berkshire has faced concerns about a 9 percent stake in the soda company, given the known health problems caused by sugary drinks. Buffett himself drinks about 700 calories worth of Coke a day. "I elect to get my 2,600 or 2,700 calories a day from things that make me feel good when I eat them," he said.
Buffett also addressed the business model of Valiant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., which he called “enormously flawed," according to the Wall Street Journal. The company has been criticized by regulators and politicians for its acquiring of drugmakers and then boosting the prices of medicines. Its stock is down more than 85 percent as compared to August.
Berkshire Hathaway's net income likely rose about 8 percent, though operating profit fell by 12 percent. The company invests in more than $100 billion in stocks and owns nearly 90 businesses.
There are few events in corporate America quite like Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholder meeting, a 40,000-person “Woodstock for capitalists” in Omaha, Nebraska, whose main attraction is 85-year-old executive Warren Buffett. Though outsiders may be baffled by the cult of personality that surrounds Buffett and his 92-year-old vice chairman, Charlie Munger, Berkshire's unheard-of gains — averaging nearly 20 percent for the past 50 years — merit some attention.
Now, with the festivities viewable via Yahoo Finance's live stream Saturday, it's possible for anyone in the world to tune in to the meeting, which features a five-hour question-and-answer session with the chief executive.
Here are four things to look out for:
1. Apocalypse Watch: In an interview with CNBC on Friday, Buffett took on fellow billionaire investor Carl Icahn's warning that low interest rates have created “tremendous bubbles” throughout the economy. His reaction: a laugh.
Calling himself “a 10 on long-term optimism,” Buffett waved off economic doomsaying. In fact, his last shareholder letter took issue with the habit of politicians' casting the economy in the most dismal terms possible.
“The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history,” Buffett said, arguing that his “upper middle class” Omaha neighbors “regularly enjoy a living standard better than that achieved by John D. Rockefeller Sr.,” the industrialist magnate who was the richest man of his time.
2. Election Ruminations: Still, economic issues remain front of mind for Buffett, who has thrown in his lot with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner in the 2016 presidential campaign. A critic of the growing chasm between the rich and the rest of the country — though no great critic of the rich themselves — the world's third-richest man cited Clinton's attention to economic fairness in his support for her.
“She will never forget the people who haven’t shared the same way,” Buffett said in December.
He's been less thrilled with the Republicans, comparing their debates to comedy routines. “I mean, I used to love Abbott and Costello, people like that,” he said. “I’m reliving my youth, I mean, vaudeville was never this good.”
As it becomes clearer that Clinton and Republican hopeful Donald Trump will round out the presidential field, barring any convention surprises, listen in for Buffett's thoughts on the two opposing candidates.
3. Negative Rates: Perhaps the most vexing financial story in world markets today is the profusion of negative interest rates at central banks around the world, including the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank. As developed markets puzzle over stubbornly low growth and inflation, financial officials have gone to unprecedented lengths to spark economic vitality.
That trend has left the Oracle of Omaha dumbfounded. “I don’t think anybody knows exactly what the full implications” of negative rates will be, Buffett told CNBC Friday.
If a recession strikes before the Federal Reserve can bring interest rates back up to historically normal levels, it's possible that negative rates might strike in the U.S. as well. “I hope to live long enough to find out,” Buffett said.
4. “La-La Land”: Buffett is currently the oldest chief executive of a Fortune 500 company, and though his characteristic wit remains apparently undulled, he has encouraged investors to keep him honest.
In his last letter to shareholders, Buffett addressed the uncomfortable topic. “If we were partners with you in a small business, and were charged with running the place, you would want to look in occasionally to make sure we hadn’t drifted off into la-la land,” Buffett wrote, encouraging investors to check in online. “Shareholders, in contrast, should not need to come to Omaha to monitor how we look and sound.”
You can see how Buffett looks and sounds starting at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday by watching the Yahoo Finance live stream here.