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06.05.2006 International

Buffett Works on $15 Bln Deal; Says It Isn't Likely (Update1)

By OMAHA, Neb (Reuters)
Buffett Works on $15 Bln Deal; Says It Isn't Likely (Update1)

Investors will go to great lengths to hear U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett speak.

Jack Asallas from Montevideo, Uruguay, paid $1,200 and spent 24 hours on four planes to reach the annual meeting of Buffett's insurance and investment company Berkshire Hathaway being held in Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday.

But he believes it is worth every cent to hear the "Oracle of Omaha" speak -- even if he was delayed for three hours in Washington, D.C., and lost his luggage on the journey.

"To be here is incredible," Asallas told Reuters at a restaurant in central Omaha. "You learn something that you don't get taught in university -- real life. I want to hear how to really manage a company and how to delegate in the way that Mr. Buffett does."

Asallas, who has been a Buffett follower since he picked up a book on the investment guru six years ago, wants to glean hints he can use at his family business in Montevideo, which makes buttons and zippers.

He's not alone in his admiration. Buffett, 75, the world's second richest man (after Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates), is widely regarded as one of the world's savviest investors. His investments are closely followed.

Last year the company's annual meeting attracted 21,000 people.

Media speculation on Friday that Buffett could announce a major acquisition this weekend using some of Berkshire's $45 billion cash pile helped drive the share prices of speculated targets auto insurer Mercury General Corp. up 3.6 percent to $57.52 and utility PG&E up 3.4 percent to

$40.80.

But the possibility of a big announcement from the meeting decreased as Berkshire said late on Friday afternoon that it would buy 80 percent of metal working tools business Iscar Metalworking Cos. in a deal that values the company at $5 billion.

Berkshire shares rose $710 on Friday to $88,710. Buffett took over Berkshire in 1965 when it was a struggling textile mill.

GOLDEN NUGGETS

Mohnish Pabrai, managing partner at Pabrai Investment Funds, where he oversees funds that own $30 million of Berkshire shares, is attending his ninth Berkshire annual meeting.

Every year he leaves Omaha with "nuggets of information," either from the meeting itself where Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger, 82, take questions for about six hours, or from comments at other events, Pabrai said.

Neither Buffett, nor Munger, have given stock tips or hints at what they may buy, but they might comment on industry sectors.

Pabrai booked a $16 razor shave with Buffett's barber of 15 years, Stan Dosekal, in the concourse level of the Kiewit Plaza building which houses Berkshire's headquarters.

"That was good - I'll have to make it an annual part of the pilgrimage," said Pabrai.

Despite being worth an estimated $42 billion, Buffett lives a rather modest life, still working and living in Omaha, a city of 409,000 people, and only drawing an annual salary of about $100,000 to run Berkshire.

The entrance to his office on the 14th floor of the Kiewit Plaza block with its beige walls and red plastic flowers gives no hint of the wealth he has built up.

Berkshire now owns up to 50 businesses, selling things ranging from underwear to insurance, as well as stakes in companies like retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and soft drinks maker Coca-Cola Co.

Charles Page, a Berkshire shareholder since the 1980s, who lives in Carmel, California, has all his retirement income in Berkshire shares and also bought them for his six grandchildren.

"A lot of people say to me, you have all your retirement in one stock? But I say that it's the ultimate diversification with all the companies that he has," said Page, 77, who is attending his 10th Berkshire meeting this weekend.

The meeting kicks off on Saturday with a movie produced by Buffett's daughter Susie. Speaking outside a restaurant in Omaha, Susie told Reuters to expect some "great surprises...and great appearances."

Last year, the movie featured advertisements for Berkshire businesses and a cartoon spoof of "The Wizard of Oz" titled "The Wizard of Omaha."

The serious business of the meeting itself is flanked by three days of parties and shopping events. The local newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald, wrapped its Friday edition with a full page of information about weekend events.

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