By Jamie McGee
Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Warren Buffett, who bought a Texas- based railroad last week in his biggest takeover, ended the tradition of hosting an event for non-U.S. investors at the annual shareholders weekend of his Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Buffett used the session in prior years to scout for acquisitions outside the U.S. He said after the 2007 meeting that he asked investors from South Africa to call him collect with ideas. He said in a 2009 interview, after prices dropped for U.S. assets, that more buying opportunities became available in his home country, and in November he struck the deal to buy Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. for about $27 billion.
Buffett, 79, will again field shareholders questions at Omaha, Nebraska’s Qwest Center arena for more than five hours on May 1. Last year’s meeting attracted a record 35,000 people, and shareholders asked questions through journalists who were instructed by Buffett to pick the most challenging issues. There will also be a company movie and barbecue for investors.
“Regrettably the International Shareholders Meet & Greet Reception is being discontinued due to escalating attendance and time constraints,” Omaha-based Berkshire said yesterday in an agenda for the May 1 events posted on its Web site.
Buffett has held the event for investors from outside the U.S. and Canada since at least 2004. Buffett said in a letter that year that he and Vice Chairman Charles Munger would meet separately with international shareholders.
“Every year our meeting draws many people from around the globe,” Buffett wrote. “Charlie and I want to be sure we personally meet those who have come so far.”‘Outgrown Its Original Purpose’
When Buffett started the international meeting, the non- U.S. investor group was smaller, said Jeff Matthews, the author of “Pilgrimage to Warren Buffett’s Omaha” and founder of the hedge fund Ram Partners LP. “Now the amount of people who come from around the world is vast,” Matthews said. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s sort of outgrown its original purpose.”
The 2008 reception included more than 700 international investors, according to the annual report for that year. Shareholders from 43 countries applied for passes to last year’s meeting.
Buffett visited Europe in May 2008 to look for acquisition targets in a tour organized by Angelo Moratti, vice chairman of Milan-based Saras SpA, and Eitan Wertheimer, president of Israel-based Iscar Metalworking Cos., which was acquired by Berkshire in 2006 in Buffett’s first non-U.S. acquisition. He met with owners of European businesses and said there were “dozens” of companies in Italy that may be candidates to join Berkshire.
Buffett didn’t return a message left with his assistant, Carrie Kizer.
--Editors: Dan Kraut, Dan Reichl
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