Warren Buffet’s firm earns almost $12-B in first quarter

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Warren Buffett’s company reported a nearly $12-billion profit in the first quarter a year after a major loss when the value of its stock investments plummeted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Berkshire Hathaway said Saturday that it earned $11.7 billion, or $7,638 per Class A share, during the first quarter as the paper value of its investment portfolio rebounded. A year earlier, Berkshire reported losing $49.7 billion, or $30,653 per share.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns more than 90 companies, including the BNSF 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.

The conglomerate said that besides the investment gains, profit also improved at all its major divisions — including insurance, utility, railroad, manufacturing and retail companies — as the economy continued to recover from the pandemic during the first three months of this year. But Berkshire said it can’t predict how the coronavirus will affect the economy going forward.

CFRA Research analyst Cathy Seifert said she was surprised that Berkshire’s many economically sensitive businesses didn’t improve more during the quarter given how much the economy has recovered, but that it looked like the company controlled costs well at its major divisions.

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 $7.018 billion, or $4,577.10 per Class A share. That’s up from $5.87 billion, or $3,617.62 per Class A share a year ago.

The four analysts surveyed by FactSet expected Berkshire to report operating earnings of $3,792.36 per Class A share.

Berkshire continued its streak of major stock repurchases by investing $6.6 billion in its own stock during the quarter. The Omaha, Nebraska-based company spent $25 billion on repurchases last year. Seifert said investors will applaud the significant buybacks.

But Berkshire is still sitting on $145.4 billion in cash and short-term investments because Buffett has struggled to find major acquisitions for the company for several years.

Later on Saturday, Buffett will spend several hours answering questions at an online version of Berkshire’s annual meeting. Buffett will be joined in answering questions by Berkshire vice chairmen Charlie Munger, Greg Abel and Ajit Jain. The company is holding its meeting online for the second year in a row because of the coronavirus pandemic. Normally the event draws a crowd of more than 40,000 to Omaha, Nebraska.

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