On April 30, at 10 a.m. Eastern time, no matter where you are, you will be able to watch a live stream of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger as they lead the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. This event, which lasted seven hours last year, typically draws 40,000 visitors to Omaha and is reportedly that city's biggest tourism draw. Now all of those visitors and all of us can watch from the comfort of our home video systems.
If you're among the millions who love Buffett's common-sense, plain-spoken financial wisdom, you may be making plans to call in sick that day. Even though I'm on the West Coast, I may set my alarm and watch as well.
Yahoo will stream the event, which will help raise its profile as the new home of live-streamed mega-events (it's also working with the NFL). So the news is a clear win for that troubled company. But it was apparently Buffett who called Yahoo Finance's editor and asked if a live stream would be possible, saying "I just want to make it bigger."
Here's what I'm wondering: Why now? Buffett has been the Oracle of Omaha for many years and the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting has been justly called the Woodstock of Finance. Live streaming technology has been widely available for more than a decade. Why is 2016 the right time to invite the rest of the world along for the ride? Other than the rather obvious comment that the company has seen a "tremendous increase" in interest in its shareholder meetings over the past 50 years, particularly in places like China, Buffett hasn't explained.
That leaves the rest of us free to guess, so here are my best guesses:
1. Late in life, legacy matters more than money.
I've seen it many times: Those who've achieved great financial success start thinking more about the message and meaning they are leaving behind as they enter their later years. Buffett is 85; Munger is 92. They couldn't spend all the money they've made if they tried. Clearly, Buffett is devoted to spreading the word about his investment philosophy--he may be the most-quoted multi-billionaire in the world. So it may simply be that their motivation is to reach the largest possible number of people with their message, and streaming the annual meeting seemed like a way to increase that reach.
2. There's trouble on the horizon.
Anyone watching the stock market or reading the financial news can see that there's a high possibility of economic turbulence ahead. People like Buffett know that times like these create all kinds of opportunities. Opportunities for smart guys like him to make themselves even wealthier. And opportunities for ordinary investors to lose a lot of money, because they're either forced to sell or frightened into selling just when their investments are at a low point and they'd be better off hanging on. The coming economic uncertainty will certainly heighten interest in the Woodstock of Finance even further. Maybe Buffett will have some helpful wisdom to share with us all.
3. It may be a very, very smart move.
There are just a few people in this world whose utterances on economic matters can actually move the markets, and Buffett is one of them. If you had that kind of power, you'd consider using it, wouldn't you? Especially in times of uncertainty.
Perhaps that's what's happening here. The bigger news about Buffett this week is his big bet on pipeline company Kinder Morgan, which follows an earlier bet on oil refiner Phillips 66. Buffett's a big believer in buying things when they are down, and few things are as badly down as oil prices at the moment. The other news about him is that in year 8 of his famous bet that an index fund would outperform hedge funds over 10 years, his index fund is still ahead but it lost out to the hedge funds in 2015 when the stock market was essentially flat.
Could whatever Buffett and Munger say in April benefit them by lifting the stock market and/or the prices of energy-related investments? It's a possibility.
Whatever happens, it'll be fun to watch.