Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway loses $50B during coronavirus pandemic

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway loses $50B during coronavirus pandemic

Berkshire sold its entire stakes in the four largest USA airlines in April, as Buffett said at the meeting that he made an "understandable mistake", and "the world has changed" for the aviation industry.

Buffett's comments came just hours after Berkshire Hathaway announced a record $US50 billion ($NZ82.4b) net first quarter loss, Reuters news agency reports.

"It turns out I was wrong", he said of his acquisitions of 10% stakes in American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.

Buffett said Berkshire "made a mistake" investing approximately $7 billion to $8 billion in the sector, which was changed "in a very major way" as the pandemic shut down most air travel, through no fault of the airlines.

Warren Buffett is planning to lead an unusual annual meeting Saturday afternoon without any of the roughly 40,000 shareholders who typically attend, but the investor will offer some of the commentary that draws the huge crowds.

The meeting was streamed on Yahoo Finance. "I don't know if Americans have now changed their habits or will change their habits because of the extended period".

"We made that decision in terms of the airline business".

The celebrated billionaire, considered one of the world's savviest investors, said a better measure of the company's performance was its operating earnings, which exclude investments and are less subject to sharp fluctuations.

"The world changed for airlines and I wish them well", Mr Buffett said on Saturday.

Buffett and Vice Chairman Greg Abel, 57, spent almost 2 and half hours answering shareholder questions posed by a reporter. We took money out of the business basically even at a substantial loss.

"I don't know the consequences" of shutting down large parts of the USA economy, Mr Buffett said, though Berkshire's operating earnings will be "considerably less" than if the virus had not hit. Abel lives closer to Omaha than Munger and Jain. Berkshire closed several of its retail businesses, such as See's Candy and the Nebraska Furniture Mart, this spring while BNSF railroad and its insurance and utility businesses continued operating.

He also said Berkshire was likely to expand its workforce, which totaled 391,539 people at year end, even though some businesses have furloughed employees and cut salaries since the pandemic began, and could start resorting to layoffs.

"We haven't done anything because we don't see anything that attractive to do".

Shareholders also elected Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of longtime Berkshire holding American Express Co, to Berkshire's board, making him the company's first African American director.

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