Berkshire meeting expected to draw up to 3,000 Chinese to get guidance from Buffett

» The 2016 Sino-American Venture Capital Summit will be Friday in Omaha.

» English and Chinese are the languages posted online for a five-continent international business reception Saturday evening.

» Warren Buffett’s comments and those of sidekick Charlie Munger, live-streamed Saturday around the world, will be translated simultaneously into one language: Mandarin.

Yes, this year’s annual gathering of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders has a decidedly Chinese inflection, focused on Berkshire Chairman and Chief Executive Buffett but also on potential investments in Omaha, Nebraska, the Midwest and the United States by Chinese seeking a stable, growing place for their money.

Estimates put the number of Chinese coming to the city for the meeting and related events this week at between 2,000 and 3,000.

“Warren Buffett is the financial god in China,” said Linda Steele (neé Lin Chongning), a founder of the Nebraska Chinese Association in Omaha. “He is being praised in China as the one who can never be beaten in the stock market. Many Chinese investors are crazy about him.”

Chen Kaifeng of New York City, whose Pinebase hedge fund is tailored to Chinese who invest globally, will host a dinner for about 150 of his countrymen Friday evening at a downtown Omaha hotel.

“A lot of people in China used the stock market to get rich quick,” Chen said, but the market reached a “fever stage” and crashed.

“A lot of people lost everything,” he said, and now want to learn the long-term approach to investing, viewing Buffett’s concepts as the answer.

“People realize he’s right,” Chen said. “You have to be patient.”

Some wealthy Chinese have been investing in U.S. real estate, especially in California, in recent years, Chen said. “Now it’s past that stage,” with more of them looking to invest in businesses, especially manufacturing, food processing and logistics.

“Many of them like the South and the Midwest,” he said. “It’s much cheaper.”

For many Chinese, investing outside China is a new experience, and they want to know how world issues will affect their pocketbooks, said Kang Lu, a journalist with Tencent Holdings’ American, a Chinese social network company based in Shenzhen, China.

“The Oracle of Omaha has proven many times how to be a winner even in a volatile market,” Kang said. “It is time to look for guidance from Warren.”

Buffett has been attracting Chinese visitors for several years, but in 2014 the U.S. government made the trip easier by creating a new visa classification, good for up to 10 years, for tourists and businesspeople making temporary trips to the United States. As many as 2 million Chinese will come to the country this year on the visas.

Berkshire’s annual meeting fits neatly into a new category of foreign visitors: business tourists, said William Cocks, a spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Embassy in China had to add visa processors to handle the crunch, he said. One company sent 7,000 of its employees to the United States for a combination business conference and holiday.

Chinese also are making the trip because Buffett is reaching out to the country in hopes of finding big businesses that Berkshire can add to its stable.

He specified the Mandarin translation in discussions with Yahoo Finance to live-stream the meeting’s five-hour question-and-answer session with Buffett and Munger, Berkshire’s vice chairman.

UneMed, the commercial licensing arm of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is hosting Chinese investors this week, said UneMed President Michael Dixon.

“It is a good opportunity for us,” Dixon said. Visitors can meet medical center researchers, look at facilities and see research results with potential to be developed into businesses if they receive financial backing. “It is something we’re certainly pursuing.”

Omaha businessman Harry Hou, who exports beef products to his native country, has a consulting firm called America Gateway. He is a member of the Nebraska Diplomats, a volunteer recruiting group with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, and a director of the Midwest International Trade Association.

Hou is helping organize Friday’s venture capital summit, held at the Walter Scott Conference Center. The meeting is the brainchild of Yong Shi, a professor of information systems and quantitative analysis at the University of Nebraska’s Peter Kiewit Institute.

Shi is widely known in China, Hou said, and has close connections with Scott, chairman emeritus of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc., who also is due to attend the venture capital meeting.

“This is a very high-level thing,” Hou said. “It’s promoting Omaha, Nebraska, especially the tech sector and industry, to attract investors from China to our great state.

“We need to get a little bigger piece of the pie. We have a great brand, which is Mr. Buffett. We think we should fully utilize that to help our state grow better.”

Attendees — many with their own translators — will include Liu Chengcheng, who heads 36Kr, a crowd-funding company in China that targets startup companies.

In 2013 Liu was one of Forbes magazine’s 30 important people under age 30 in China because of his success in connecting investors and businesses.

Liu is bringing 50 leading Chinese investors for the summit and invited Nebraska entrepreneurs to talk business on Friday. They’ll attend the Berkshire meeting Saturday.

Saturday evening, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s “Come for Warren Buffett — Stay for the Party” reception will have about 300 guests, including at least 200 from Europe, Latin America, Australia and Asia, about half of them Chinese, said Mindy Ruffalo, the chamber’s international business developer.

The Chinese, she said, are “very interested in studying what Berkshire Hathaway has done and how to invest. This will be great exposure in front of these investors.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts and state economic developers from Nebraska and Iowa will give talks, along with Omaha executives from global companies Graepel North America, PayPal and Claas of North America.

Ricketts, who will speak to three groups this week that include Chinese investors, said Monday that reporters he met during a trade mission to China last fall knew little about Nebraska beyond Berkshire and Buffett.

“The fact that Berkshire Hathaway is so world-renowned and it gets people from all over the world coming here opens up the door for us to talk about the other things we have to offer here in Nebraska,” Ricketts said.

Attracting investments depends on developing relationships, he said, and that takes a long time. “The door is open here to make those introductions. Then we have to continue to follow up with it.”

Word about the chamber’s reception attracted so much interest that attendance was limited to the most serious investors, site selection consultants and deal-seekers.

“Whether that leads to opportunities or not is always the question,” the chamber’s Ruffalo said. “But I think eventually they will start to land. We have to accommodate that and hope that they do truly invest in Nebraska.”

During the extended weekend, Chinese groups are holding dinners at the Embassy Suites, Hilton and Doubletree hotels in downtown Omaha.

One of them, with 80 investors and businesspeople, will be hosted by Ming Zhong, executive director of the American Chinese Modern Economy Society in New York City and an investment manager for Lazard Asset Management.

“I think the Chinese investor is coming,” Zhong said. “China is slowing down. The U.S. is raising interest rates, while China is cutting interest rates and its currency is losing value. They’re definitely interested.”

Sara Fu of Sara Fu Studio contributed to this report.

The Omaha World-Herald is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1080, steve.jordon@owh.com, twitter.com/buffettOWH

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Holiday comes at good time for China’s Buffett fans

Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting, which CEO Warren Buffett calls “Woodstock for Capitalists,” takes place Saturday, just before May 1, communism’s biggest holiday: International Workers’ Day, or in China, Labor Day.

In China, Labor Day kicks off a seven-day national holiday.

The timing is fortunate for Chinese businesspeople, freeing them up to visit Omaha and elsewhere in the U.S. and combining the holiday with business-related stops. — Steve Jordon

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