Buffett's Berkshire doubles profit, repurchases $900 million stock in Q3
Berkshire Hathaway Inc, the conglomerate run by American billionaire Warren Buffett, on Saturday said its quarterly operating profit doubled as its insurance business dodged hurricanes and benefited from lower taxes.
The strong result gives Buffett more cash to deploy even as the well-known bargain-hunting “value” investor has admitted struggling to find a place to put those earnings to work and he resorted to buying back 928 million US dollars in his own company's stock in the latest quarter.
Its operating profit in the third quarter doubled to 6.88 billion dollars from 3.44 billion dollars a year earlier, and higher than the 6.11 billion dollars expected by Wall Street, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Helping the company's insurance operations were lower estimated liabilities from property and casualty insurance in prior years and lower taxes. The year prior included major losses due to three US hurricanes and an earthquake in Mexico.
Insurance underwriting income was 441 million dollars in the third quarter, compared to a loss of 1.4 billion dollars in the year-ago period.
“This is absolutely one of the biggest quarterly earnings reports that has ever come out of a United States corporation,” said Bill Smead, chief executive of Smead Capital Management, a Berkshire shareholder.
Berkshire said third-quarter net income rose more than 355 percent to 18.5 billion dollars, though that reflected a new accounting rule requiring it to report unrealized investment gains with earnings. Buffett said the rule could lead to “wild and capricious” results and can mislead investors, who should look at operating profit instead.
Berkshire's effective tax rate for the third quarter was 19.2 percent compared to 25.3 percent in the year-ago period following a reduction of the corporate tax rate that President Donald Trump signed into law in December. Many US companies' reported results have been skewed by the law's impact.
Over 100 billion US dollars to spend
Insurance provides a stream of cash that Berkshire can invest around the world. Float, or insurance premiums collected before claims are paid and which help fund Berkshire's growth, ended September at 118 billion dollars. The company has 103.6 billion dollars in cash, short-term Treasuries and other similar investments.
Buffett's last big acquisition was in January 2016, when Berkshire paid 32.1 billion dollars for aircraft parts maker Precision Castparts. In July, the company announced relaxing a policy that had effectively prevented Buffett from buying back the company's shares at current prices.
Berkshire is based in Omaha, Nebraska, and has more than 90 businesses in the insurance, chemicals, energy, food and retail, industrial parts, railroad and other sectors.
Their day-to-day operations are overseen by Greg Abel and Ajit Jain, each seen by investors as a possible successor to Buffett, 88, as chief executive. Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 94, handle major capital allocation decisions.
Berkshire's profits improved across each of its major business units. Their results painted a picture of a US economy that continues to grow but faces increased pressure from rising costs, in part due to the Trump administration's imposition of tariffs. In its building products and McLane's grocery and foodservice businesses, for instance, Berkshire reported higher fuel and raw materials costs, hurting profits.
Yet at Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC, Berkshire's rail business, they were able to increase prices as more businesses ship by rail due to tight supply in the trucking market.