Buffett defends investments and cash stake

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Warren Buffett has railed against Wall Street excess and, after spending tens of billions on stocks and companies in March, extolled the virtue of keeping lots of cash as he hosted Berkshire Hathaway Inc's first in-person annual meeting since 2019.

Buffett, 91, who is Berkshire's chairman and chief executive, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 98, fielded questions in a downtown arena in Omaha, Nebraska.

Vice Chairmen Greg Abel, Buffett's designated successor as CEO, and Ajit Jain also joined them.

The meeting came after Berkshire revealed it had scooped up more than $US51 billion ($A72 billion) of stocks in the first quarter, including a much larger stake in Chevron Corp, and has for now stopped repurchasing its own stock.

Berkshire also said operating profit was little changed in the first quarter, as many businesses were able to boost revenue despite supply chain disruptions caused by the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Buffett had in his annual shareholder letter in February bemoaned the lack of investment opportunities.

That prompted a shareholder to ask what changed in March, when Berkshire bought 14.6 per cent of Occidental Petroleum Corp and agreed to pay $US11.6 billion for insurer Alleghany Corp.

Buffett said it was simple: he became interested in Occidental after reading an analyst report, and in Alleghany after its chief executive wrote to him.

"Markets do crazy things, and occasionally Berkshire gets a chance to do something," he said.

"It's not because we're smart.... I think we're sane."

Berkshire's cash stake sank to about $US106 billion from nearly $US147 billion in the quarter but Buffett said it was important to keep enough on hand.

"We will always have a lot of cash," he said.

"It's like oxygen, it's there all the time but if it disappears for a few minutes, it's all over."

Buffett also picked on a favoured target, Wall Street, saying the stock market sometimes resembled a casino or gambling partner.

"That existed to an extraordinary degree in the last couple of years, encouraged by Wall Street," he said.

Abel defended Berkshire's BNSF railroad, saying there was "more to be done" to improve operations and customer service while Jain said Geico had lost ground to rival insurer Progressive Corp on telematics, which insurers use to track driver behaviour and better match rates and risk.

Shareholders will vote later on whether Berkshire should replace Buffett with an independent chair - he would remain chief executive - and disclose how its dozens of businesses promote diversity and address climate risks and mitigation.

Berkshire's board opposes the proposals.

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