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Buffett Says Abstaining Beats War in Dispute on Coke Pay

Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said a private conversation with Coca-Cola Co. CEO Muhtar Kent was better than publicly rebuking him over the company’s compensation plan.

“We made a very clear statement about the excessiveness of the plan and, at the same time, we in no way went to war with Coca-Cola,” Buffett said today at Berkshire’s annual meeting at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska. “I don’t think going to war is a very good idea in most situations.”

Buffett abstained from voting against the pay proposal at Coca-Cola’s shareholder meeting on April 23, then began criticizing the plan after it passed. Buffett, whose company is the largest shareholder in Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, said at the time that his loyalty to the soft-drink maker kept him from voting against the measure.

“The best result for the Coca-Cola Company was achieved by our abstention,” Buffett said today.

David Winters, an investor in both Coca-Cola and Berkshire, had called on Buffett to oppose the pay plan, saying it violates the billionaire’s principles on stock dilution. The measure passed with 83 percent of the votes cast.

“No matter how you slice it or dice it, Buffett reached the same conclusion that we did -- the plan is excessive,” Winters said this week.

Winters has said that the equity plan, in addition to ones already enacted, could transfer $29.8 billion to the Coca-Cola managers, harming shareholders. Coca-Cola granted long-term equity compensation to about 6,400 employees in 2013.

‘Wildly Inaccurate’

“We did not endorse some calculations that were wildly inaccurate and join forces” with Winters, Buffett said today.

Coke declined to say what discussions it had with shareholders on the equity plan.

“The company routinely interacts with shareowners both large and small in order to receive feedback on any number of matters, including about the 2014 equity plan,” the Atlanta-based company said in a statement yesterday. “We do not, however, share specific details of those interactions.”

Coca-Cola shares have declined 0.9 percent this year, trailing the 1.8 percent gain of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

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