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Buffett besieged on disappointing growth, Coca-Cola executive pay vote

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett throws a newspaper during a competition at a trade show, at the company’s annual meeting in Omaha,on Saturday, May 3, 2014.

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By Reuters
Saturday, May 3, 2014, 9:09 p.m.

OMAHA — Warren Buffett on Saturday defended disappointing growth and his recent controversial vote on executive pay at Coca-Cola Co., as investors grilled him on his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. conglomerate at its annual shareholder meeting.

Buffett abstained from voting Berkshire's 400 million shares against the compensation plan last week, though he has long advocated against exorbitant executive pay and has described Coca-Cola's package as excessive.

“I thought this was the most effective way of behaving at Berkshire,” Buffett said on Saturday.

Shareholder Jake Kamm said the explanation Buffett offered initially for not voting against the pay package was not convincing.

“It's a little bit of spin,” said Kamm, who teaches finance at Baldwin Wallace University near Cleveland, Ohio.

Buffett was peppered with questions at the meeting, part of a mostly festive weekend that Buffett calls “Woodstock for Capitalists,” because Berkshire last year missed Buffett's five-year growth target for the first time in his 49 years at the helm.

Buffett, 83, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 90, took the stage in a downtown Omaha arena.

Buffett said investors shouldn't have been surprised that Berkshire's results trailed the Standard & Poor's 500 last year.

“We will underperform in very strong up years,” Buffett said.

“Over any cycle, we will overperform, but there's no guarantee on that,” he said. Berkshire, he said, is designed to perform best when markets are at their worst, unlike in 2013 when the S&P 500 rose 30 percent.

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