Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway reported a surge in profits in the first quarter as its investment portfolio swelled in size alongside a broad market rally and its sprawling group of businesses rebounded from the depths of the crisis a year ago.
The company said on Saturday that it had swung to a profit of $11.7bn from a loss of $49.7bn a year earlier, figures heavily influenced by the shifts in its $282bn stock portfolio that includes big names such as Apple and Bank of America.
Its core operating businesses, which include the insurer Geico, BNSF railroad and the Dairy Queen ice cream chain, also improved. Operating earnings from those businesses rose 19.5 per cent to $7bn from the year before.
The company’s closely scrutinised cash pile ballooned to $145.4bn from $138.3bn at the end of 2020. Berkshire disclosed that it had spent $6.6bn in the quarter buying back its class A and B stock, as it continued to direct much of its firepower towards share repurchases.
The results come hours before Buffett and a trio of Berkshire executives address the company’s shareholders at an annual meeting that could prove to be the most divisive in years.
A host of large stockholders, including the California employee pension fund Calpers and asset manager Neuberger Berman, have warned they will withhold votes from some directors sitting on the Berkshire board as they push the conglomerate to adopt social and environmental-focused stockholder proposals.
Buffett will be joined by Berkshire vice-chairs Charlie Munger, Greg Abel and Ajit Jain at the annual meeting, which this year will take place from Los Angeles, far from the company’s usual downtown Omaha locale.
The coronavirus has for the second year prevented an annual gathering that typically drew tens of thousands of Berkshire shareholders to the midwest city.
Berkshire’s class A shares have climbed 18.6 per cent so far this year and closed on Friday at $412,500 a piece. The gain puts the conglomerate ahead of the 11.8 per cent total return of the benchmark S&P 500, setting a path for Berkshire to eclipse the performance of the broad market in a given year for the first time since 2018.