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Berkshire opposes dividend proposal; Buffett, Gates get pay rises

Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett gestures at the start of a 5km race sponsored by Brooks Sports Inc., a Berkshire-owned company, in Omaha May 5, 2013, a day after the company's annual meeting. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

(Reuters) - Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc has urged shareholders to vote against a proposal that it consider spending some of its $48.2 billion of cash on a "meaningful" dividend.

According to a Berkshire proxy filing on Friday, David Witt, a Cincinnati resident who owns nearly $8,600 of Berkshire stock, will propose the payout at the company's May 3 annual meeting.

Berkshire has not paid a cash dividend since 1967.

"Whereas the corporation has more money than it needs and since the owners unlike Warren are not multi-billionaires, the board shall consider paying a meaningful annual dividend on the shares," Witt's proposal said, referring as Buffett does to shareholders as owners.

Buffett was not immediately available for comment.

His $58.2 billion net worth makes him the world's fourth-richest person, Forbes magazine said this month.

In opposing Witt's proposal, Berkshire's board said it already considers annually whether the Omaha, Nebraska-based company should retain all earnings.

Buffett, 83, has long maintained that he can generate better returns through acquisitions such as the BNSF railroad and investments such as Wells Fargo & Co.

He told shareholders in 2011 that Berkshire's share price ought to fall if the company decided to pay a dividend. Buffett also wants to keep a $20 billion cash cushion.


"Our shareholders are far wealthier today than they would be if the funds we used for acquisitions had instead been devoted to share repurchases or dividends," he said in his March 2013 annual letter.

"Though large transactions of the BNSF kind will be rare, there are still some whales in the ocean."

Berkshire also urged shareholders to vote against a proposal that it set goals for its energy businesses to reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions. Similar proposals failed in 2011 and 2013.

Buffett controls one-third of Berkshire's voting power. Shareholder proposals that Berkshire opposes typically fail by overwhelming margins.

Berkshire also disclosed that Buffett's compensation rose 15 percent last year to $485,606. That includes his usual $100,000 salary, plus $385,606 for personal and home security.

The company also said it paid most directors an extra $300 last year. That meant Bill Gates, the Microsoft Corp co-founder and world's richest person, was awarded $2,100 last year for his work as a Berkshire director.

Gates is worth $76 billion, Forbes said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York,; additional reporting by Luciana Lopez; Editing by Sophie Hares)