Berkshire Hathaway’s operating earnings jump, Buffett continues to buy back stock

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Warren Buffett.
Gerald Miller | CNBC

Berkshire Hathaway‘s operating earnings rebounded as the conglomerate’s businesses recovered from the pandemic hit. Chairman Warren Buffett kept buying back Berkshire shares aggressively in the first quarter, but at a slightly slower pace.

Berkshire reported operating income of $7.018 billion in the first quarter, up 20% from $5.871 billion in the same period a year ago. The conglomerate’s hodge-podge of businesses including insurance, transportation, utility, retail and manufacturing saw signs of a recovery amid the economy reopening.

During the first quarter, the company bought back $6.6 billion of Berkshire shares, after a record $24.7 billion in buybacks last year in lieu of deal-making. The conglomerate recorded $9 billion in share buybacks in the fourth quarter.

Berkshire Hathaway’s cash pile grew about 5% during the quarter to more than $145.4 billion. Just slightly below the record level seen at the end of the third quarter last year.

Buffett has been sitting on the sidelines as the deal-making environment becomes more competitive and market valuations turned lofty. The legendary investor said at last year’s annual meeting that he hasn’t seen anything attractive to pull the trigger on an “elephant-sized acquisition.”

Berkshire’s equity investments also registered solid gains, increasing approximately $2.8 billion last quarter. However, Buffett told shareholders to not focus on quarterly fluctuations in investing gains and losses.

“The amount of investment gains (losses) in any given quarter is usually meaningless and delivers figures for net earnings per share that can be extremely misleading to investors who have little or no knowledge of accounting rules,” Berkshire said in a statement.

As of the end of March, Apple remained the single biggest equity holding in Berkshire’s portfolio, worth more than $110 billion. The other top holdings are American Express, Bank of America and Coca Cola.

Thanks to the buyback program and a recovery in its operating businesses, Berkshire’s “B” shares have rallied more than 18% in 2021 to a record high.

The conglomerate’s total revenue came in at $64.6 billion last quarter, higher than the Street’s estimate of $63.66 billion, according to Refinitiv.

Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting will kick off Saturday at 12:30 pm ET in Los Angeles with both Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger present. The event will be held virtually without attendees for a second time.

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