Buffett’s firm reports nearly $50B loss as investments drop

OMAHA, Neb. — Warren Buffett’s company reported a nearly $50 billion loss on Saturday because of a huge drop in the paper value of its investments, though it is still sitting on a huge pile of cash.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said it lost $49.7 billion, or $30,653 per Class A share, during the first quarter. That’s down from last year’s profit of $21.66 billion, or $13,209 per Class A share.

The biggest factor in the loss was a $54.5 billion loss on the value of Berkshire’s investment portfolio as the stock market declined sharply after the coronavirus outbreak began. The year before, Berkshire’s investments added $15.5 billion to the company’s profits.

Buffett has long said Berkshire’s operating earnings offer a better view of quarterly performance because they exclude investments and derivatives, which can vary widely. By that measure, Berkshire’s operating earnings improved to $5.87 billion, or $3,617.62 per Class A share, from $5.56 billion, or $3,387.56 per Class A share.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected operating earnings per Class A share of $3,796.90 on average.

Berkshire’s revenue grew 1 per cent to $61.27 billion. The company said revenue slowed considerably in April as the virus outbreak negatively affected most of its businesses. Berkshire closed several of its retail businesses, such as See’s Candy and the Nebraska Furniture Mart, this spring while BNSF railroad and its insurance and utility businesses continued operating.

Berkshire is sitting on a pile of more than $137 billion cash because Buffett has struggled to find major acquisitions for the company recently. Edward Jones analyst Jim Shanahan said it was striking that Buffett didn’t find any bargains to invest in at the end of the first quarter.

“The lack of investment activity really sticks out,” Shanahan said.

On Saturday afternoon, Buffett plans to lead an abbreviated online version of Berkshire’s annual meeting without any of the roughly 40,000 shareholders who typically attend. The company shifted to an online meeting and cancelled all the events surrounding the meeting because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns more than 90 companies, including the railroad and insurance, utility, furniture and jewelry businesses. The company also has major investments in such companies as Apple, American Express, Coca-Cola and Bank of America.

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