OMAHA, Neb. — Warren Buffett’s company again reported a loss – this time only $2.7 billion – because of a drop in the paper value of its investment portfolio in the third quarter, but most of its operating businesses performed well with the notable exception of Geico.
Berkshire Hathaway reported a quarterly loss Saturday of $2.7 billion, or $1,832 per Class A share. That’s down from a $10.3 billion profit, or $6,882 per Class A share, a year ago when the stock market was soaring. In the second quarter of this year, Berkshire reported a $44 billion loss.
Buffett has long said he believes Berkshire’s operating earnings are a better measure of the company’s performance because they exclude investment gains and losses, which can vary widely quarter to quarter. By that measure, Berkshire’s operating earnings jumped 20% to $7.76 billion, or $5,293.83 per Class A share. That’s up from $6.47 billion, or $4,330.60 per Class A share.
The four analysts surveyed by FactSet expected Berkshire to report operating earnings per Class A share of $4,205.82 on average.
Berkshire said its revenue grew 9% to $76.9 billion.
Most of Berkshire’s eclectic assortment of more than 90 companies performed well during the quarter, but the key insurance unit of Geico reported a pre-tax underwriting loss of $759 million as the cost of auto claims soared along with the prices of used cars and car parts. Geico has been hampered by soaring costs since the second half of last year.
Geico did increase its rates by 5.4% during the quarter, but that was almost entirely offset because it lost 4.6% of its customers.
Another notable weak spot in the results was that BNSF railroad’s profit declined 6% to $1.44 billion as it hauled 5% less freight the cost of fuel soared and salary costs were adjusted up to reflect the raises railroads have agreed to pay their workers in tentative agreements with their 12 unions. Most of BNSF’s peers reported significant increases in profits during the quarter.
Berkshire also owns a number of businesses linked to the housing market which has weakened significantly as mortgage rates more than doubled over the past year. So Berkshire’s large network of real estate brokers and its Clayton Homes manufactured housing unit could suffer in the months ahead.
CFRA Research analyst Cathy Seifert said at a time like this when a number of Berkshire’s businesses are facing challenges it would be nice if the company would share more details about what it’s doing to respond. But Berkshire’s longstanding practice is just to post its quarterly report online without holding a conference call to discuss the results, so investors are left to draw their own conclusions about what’s ahead because Berkshire does not say much in its report about what it is anticipating.
And Berkshire is known for its decentralized approach that largely lets its businesses run themselves on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s fine to be hands off when everything is going well. When you start getting into a more difficult operating environment, investors should demand more detail, and it’s not forthcoming here,” Seifert said. “And I personally find that problematic.”
But Edward Jones analyst Jim Shanahan said he thought the results were good overall, and the utility unit was a particularly strong contributor. Berkshire’s utilities, which include MidAmerican Energy and PacifiCorp, added $1.59 billion in profits, up 6% over last year.
Berkshire said its insurance units recorded after tax losses of $2.7 billion related to Hurricane Ian. That compares with $1.7 billion in catastrophic losses a year ago related to Hurricane Ida and major floods in Europe.
Berkshire is sitting on nearly $109 billion cash even though it has been actively investing in the stock market this year, including putting more than $51 billion to work in the first quarter. That is up slightly from the $105.4 billion it held at the end of the second quarter because Berkshire’s businesses generated more cash than it spent. Although after the end of the third quarter, Berkshire did spend $11.6 billion in October to complete its acquisition of the Alleghany insurance conglomerate.
Buffett’s biggest stock investments this year included buying roughly $12 billion worth of Occidental Petroleum stock and about $20 billion worth of Chevron shares. Besides those oil sector investments, Berkshire also bought more than 120 million shares of printer maker HP Inc. and bet big that Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard will go through by buying nearly 70 million shares of the video game maker.
But during the third quarter, Berkshire was only a net buyer of about $3.7 billion in stocks, Shanahan said. About $2 billion of that went to Occidental purchases that have already been disclosed. Berkshire also repurchased $1.05 billion of its own shares.
Berkshire’s investment portfolio also includes major stakes in Apple, American Express, Bank of America and Coca-Cola stock.
The Omaha, Nebraska, based conglomerate’s companies include manufacturing firms like aviation parts maker Precision Castparts and specialty chemical maker Lubrizol, retail firms like See’s Candy, Dairy Queen and Helzberg Diamonds and other companies like NetJets.
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