OMAHA, Neb. (Reuters) – China’s growing middle class is becoming a bigger force in global tourism. For a case in point, look no further than Nebraska the week of the Berkshire Hathaway Inc annual shareholders’ meeting.
For all his fame in the United States, where some regard him as the best investor of all time, billionaire Warren Buffett on Saturday said the company’s brand carries much less weight with potential partners beyond U.S. borders.
But a clear exception is the world’s second largest economy, where Buffett is something of a rock star: One early estimate put the number of Chinese visitors expected for Berkshire week at 5,000. Berkshire sent out slightly more tickets to this year’s extravaganza than in 2015, when an estimated 42,000 celebrated Buffett’s 50th year at the helm.
Posters for an investment conference across the street from Berkshire’s convention hall are written in Chinese and boast the conglomerate Tencent Holdings Ltd as a partner.
Tables at a nearby hotel are set with a centerpiece of fortune cookies. Inside each: a Buffett aphorism. On the evening schedule one night were cocktails and ping-pong, a sport Buffett plays that is also popular in China.
At one closed-door event, five groups of U.S. start-up companies presented ideas to Chinese investors in a “Shark Tank”-style forum held at the Nebraska Chinese Association, according to the group’s president, Linda Steele.
“It’s not just people snapping pictures at Dairy Queen. There’s a lot going beyond the superficial. There’s real business going on here,” said Les Baquiran, founder of Pinebase, an online financial forum which sponsored several events aimed at Chinese investors in Omaha, including one that drew more than 400 people.
“It would be more intense if everyone from China who wanted to come came.”
A map of where Berkshire visitors came from, broadcast on Yahoo Finance, showed push-pins up and down the Middle Kingdom’s eastern coastline.
Buffett and his right-hand man, Charlie Munger, are relatively well-known in China, where Buffett’s face appeared on cans of his beloved Cherry Coke.
Buffett has been known to meet with groups of visiting students from China, while Munger pushed for the 2008 investment by a Berkshire subsidiary in Chinese electric carmaker BYD Co Ltd.
Buffett took several questions from Chinese shareholders on Saturday, including one that elicited Buffett’s comment that Washington and Beijing are two intelligent superpowers who will avoid a trade war. [nL1N1SC08J]
One young Shenzhen native, now studying in Boston, asked Buffett for advice.
“I never was any good at languages, but if I were in college today in either country I’d be learning the language of the other country because I think it’d be a great advantage over time,” Buffett told him, referring to the United States and China.
The 87-year-old “Oracle of Omaha” did show fluency with Chinese culture.
“In August, I’m going to be 88, and that will be the 8th month of the year, and it’s in a year that ends with an 8,” he said.
“As you and I both know, 8 is a very lucky number in China. So if you find anything over there for me this is the time we should be acquiring something.”
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Omaha; Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Nick Zieminski