Berkshire operating profit soars, accounting change causes net loss

OMAHA, Neb. (Reuters) – Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) on Saturday ended its more than year-long stretch of falling operating profit, while a new accounting rule caused the conglomerate chaired by Warren Buffett to suffer an overall net loss.

Shareholders walk through the exhibit hall at the Berkshire Hathaway Inc annual meeting, the largest in corporate America, in its hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The results were released on the same day Berkshire is holding its annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, where Buffett, 87, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 94, will answer five hours of questions from shareholders, journalists and analysts.

Operating profit, which excludes investment and derivative gains and losses, rose 49 percent to $5.29 billion, or about $3,215 per Class A share, from $3.56 billion, or $2,163 per share, a year earlier, Berkshire said.

The net loss was $1.14 billion, or $692 per share, compared with net income of $4.06 billion, or $2,469 per share, a year earlier.

Shareholders walk through the exhibit hall at the Berkshire Hathaway Inc annual meeting, the largest in corporate America, in its hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Analysts, on average, expected operating profit of about $3,116 per Class A share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Operating profit from Berkshire’s more than 90 businesses had fallen for five straight quarters, largely because of disappointing performance from insurance underwriting, including losses tied to hurricanes.

Saturday’s report also ended an eight-quarter stretch when operating results fell short of Wall Street forecasts.

The accounting change required Berkshire to report $6.2 billion unrealized losses in its marketable stock portfolio, which totaled $170.5 billion at year end, regardless of whether it planned to sell those stocks.

Buffett has called the new rule a “nightmare” that would produce “truly wild and capricious swings” in bottom-line results that could, depending on the direction, unnecessarily scare or embolden investors.

Two of Berkshire’s biggest stock investments, Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) and Coca-Cola Co (KO.N), had tough first quarters, their shares falling 13.6 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively.

The stock price declines also weighed on Berkshire’s book value, which measures assets minus liabilities and is a favored gauge of Buffett for Berkshire’s growth. Book value per Class A share fell 0.3 percent in the quarter to $211,184.

In Friday trading, Berkshire Class A shares closed at$292,600, and the Class B shares closed at $195.64. Both are 10 percent below their record highs set on Jan. 29.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Trevor Hunnicutt in Omaha, Nebraska; Editing by Toby Chopra and Nick Zieminski



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