OMAHA,. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc today said gains in its stock investments fuelled a big first-quarter profit, while improved results from its Geico auto insurer and BNSF railroad units boosted operating results.
Berkshire also said it repurchased US$1.7 billion (RM7.04 billion) of its stock in the quarter, reflecting Buffett’s troubles to find better uses for the Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate’s cash hoard, which now totals US$114.2 billion.
Results were released as Buffett, 88, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 95, prepared to answer more than five hours of questions from shareholders and analysts at Berkshire’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, which draws tens of thousands of people.
The US$21.66-billion overall profit, or US$13,209 per Class A share, compared with a year-earlier net loss of US$1.14 billion, or US$692 per share, and a fourth-quarter net loss of US$25.39 billion.
These results illustrate what Buffett has called the “wild and capricious” and, in his view, meaningless swings caused by an accounting rule requiring the reporting of unrealized stock gains with earnings, regardless of Berkshire’s plans to sell. Berkshire had US$15.1 billion of these gains in the first quarter.
Operating profit, which Buffett considers a better performance measure, rose 5 per cent to US$5.56 billion, or about US$3,388 per Class A share, from US$5.29 billion, or US$3,215 per share, a year earlier.
Analysts on average expected operating profit of about US$3,399 per Class A share, according to Refinitiv data.
Results excluded operating earnings tied to Berkshire’s 26.7 per cent stake in Kraft Heinz Co because the food company has not released its own audited quarterly results, Buffett told reporters before the annual meeting.
Buffett also maintained that “we paid too much” for Kraft Heinz, which was created in a 2015 merger between Kraft Foods and H.J. Heinz, which Berkshire and Brazil’s 3G Capital controlled.
In last year’s fourth quarter, Berkshire took a US$3-billion writedown on Kraft.
Geico saw pre-tax underwriting profit rise 14 per cent as rising rates and premiums offset higher accident claims.
BNSF’s profit rose 9 per cent to US$1.25 billion as higher demand from the energy and industrial sectors offset lower volumes attributed to severe winter weather and flooding.
Among other businesses, the Berkshire Hathaway Energy unit posted a 3-per cent profit increase, while earnings from retailing and services units increased 16 per cent, despite a 19 per cent revenue drop at See’s Candies because Easter fell late.
Berkshire owns more than 90 companies.
Last month, Berkshire committed US$10 billion to Occidental Petroleum Corp’s cash-and-stock bid for Anadarko Petroleum Corp, which Chevron Corp also wants to buy.
The Berkshire investment is contingent on Occidental completing its proposed purchase of Anadarko.
Berkshire’s Class A shares closed Friday at US$327,765.61, and its Class B shares closed at US$218.60. — Reuters