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It's on with the show as Buffett brushes off cancer

DESPITE his recent cancer diagnosis, Warren Buffett remained as upbeat as ever, showing no intention of stepping aside any time soon.

Hosting his annual ''Woodstock for Capitalists'' - the shareholder meeting of Berkshire Hathaway - in the US midwestern city of Omaha, the 81-year-old declared he intended to keep his usual daily schedule during his treatment.

When pressed to name a successor, Mr Buffett held to his consistent line that this served no useful purpose because the nominated person may change as circumstances change, and he had no intention of retiring.

Mr Buffett, who begins treatment in July, said the cancer was not ''remotely life threatening''.

Also known as the Oracle of Omaha, Mr Buffett said his deals to inject $US8 billion into Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs and General Electric were "peanuts" compared with longer-term bets Berkshire Hathaway has made with stock picks and acquisitions.

"Those deals have not been key to Berkshire," he said of the 2008 investments in Goldman and GE. "They're not remotely as important as buying Coca-Cola stock.''


Mr Buffett also said he was prepared to make further bets on the newspaper industry despite the challenge the industry faces from the internet. ''I think the economics will be OK, but it will be nothing like the old days,'' he said of the industry.

Berkshire, which ranges from railroads to insurers, is the holding company run by Mr Buffett.

Shareholders, looking for Mr Buffett's investment insights, queued outside the Omaha Qwest Centre well before dawn. On Saturday, the lines snaked around the block well before the doors opened.

Mr Buffett, Berkshire's chairman and chief executive, as well as his vice-president, Charlie Munger, dispensed a homely mix of investment tips and cracking one-liners that kept the crowd in their seats for the five-hour meeting.

Shareholders lapped up the offerings from the stage, where the two octogenarians held court while Mr Buffett sipped Cherry Coke and both men consumed considerable quantities of See's Peanut Brittle.

It wasn't all beer and skittles though. Mr Buffett was asked about Berkshire's soft share price and what could be done to restore it, as well as about dividends and buybacks.

Mr Buffett and Mr Munger were not keen to move on any of those issues. They have repeatedly said they believe Berkshire can compound excess cash for shareholders at a rate which justifies not paying a dividend, and that they were comfortable with the previously announced open-ended share repurchase program.

While there wasn't much in the way of new information emanating from the meeting - it's hard when shareholders ask much the same questions each year and the answers don't change - Mr Buffett was more forthright than he has been in years on his views on the share price. He was clear that he was comfortable with the buyback price at 1.1 times book value - even saying they want the stock to be very undervalued before they buy back shares.

The unspoken but seemingly obvious message was that with the stock trading at 1.15 times book value, the shares were very cheap.

"Medical costs are the tapeworm of American industry," Mr Buffett said, while Mr Munger said of the previous Federal Reserve chairman: ''Some might say Alan Greenspan overdosed on [writer] Ayn Rand" and that "prostitution would be a step up for [executive] compensation consultants''.

Both are over 80 and billionaires - and neither seemed too worried about pulling punches.

with wires