Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate led by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, recently released its third-quarter report, revealing a significant jump in operating earnings. However, amidst the positive news, some challenges also emerged for the company. In this article, we will delve deeper into Berkshire Hathaway’s performance during the quarter, exploring the highlights and areas of concern that investors should be aware of.
Increase in Operating Earnings
Berkshire Hathaway reported operating earnings of $10.761 billion in the third quarter, marking a substantial increase of 40.6% compared to the same period last year. These earnings encompass profits generated from the company’s various wholly owned businesses, including insurance, railroads, and utilities. This surge in operating earnings reflects the resilience and profitability of Berkshire Hathaway’s diversified portfolio of businesses.
Despite the strong financial performance, Berkshire Hathaway found itself sitting on a record amount of cash at the end of September, totaling a staggering $157.2 billion. This cash hoard surpassed the previous high of $149.2 billion set in the third quarter of 2021. Warren Buffett, often referred to as the “Oracle of Omaha,” has been cautious when it comes to making new investments, citing limited dealmaking opportunities. As a result, the company has opted to accumulate cash, positioning itself for potential acquisitions or other strategic moves in the future.
Strategic Bond Investments
One noteworthy aspect of Berkshire Hathaway’s cash management strategy is its investment in short-term Treasury bills with yields of at least 5%. By taking advantage of surging bond yields, the company has allocated approximately $126.4 billion of its cash holdings into such investments. This marked increase from around $93 billion at the end of the previous year demonstrates Warren Buffett’s keen eye for profitable investment opportunities.
Share Buyback Activity
Berkshire Hathaway’s share buyback activity slowed down during the third quarter, primarily due to a surge in the company’s stock price. The firm repurchased shares worth $1.1 billion, bringing the total for the first nine months of the year to approximately $7 billion. Despite this slowdown, Berkshire Hathaway Class A shares have rallied by nearly 14% in 2021. Although the stock reached an all-time high in September, it has experienced a modest decline of around 6% since then.
Geico, Berkshire Hathaway’s insurance subsidiary and often considered Buffett’s “favorite child,” reported another profitable quarter. Geico’s underwriting earnings reached $1.1 billion, indicating the company’s success in a competitive market. However, it is important to note that Geico has been undertaking a turnaround strategy after losing market share to its competitor Progressive. The positive performance of Geico reflects the effectiveness of the company’s efforts in reviving its market position.
Challenges for BNSF
While Geico experienced success, BNSF, the railroad division of Berkshire Hathaway, faced challenges during the third quarter. The division’s earnings declined by 15% due to lower volumes and higher costs. These difficulties highlight the impact of supply chain disruptions and the current economic climate on transportation businesses. However, it is worth noting that BNSF’s long-term prospects remain positive, given the anticipated recovery of the global economy.
One significant setback for Berkshire Hathaway in the third quarter was a $24.1 billion investment loss, primarily driven by a decline in its substantial stake in Apple. Shares of the tech giant fell by 11.7% during the quarter, but they have since rebounded by over 3%. Despite this loss, Berkshire Hathaway emphasized the importance of looking beyond quarterly fluctuations in its equity portfolio, which could provide a distorted view of the company’s overall performance.
Berkshire Hathaway’s third-quarter report showcased both positive and negative aspects of the company’s performance. While operating earnings witnessed a considerable increase and Geico continued its profitability, challenges for BNSF and the significant investment loss in Apple serve as reminders of the intricacies and risks of the investment landscape. As always, investors should take a comprehensive and long-term view of Berkshire Hathaway’s operations and carefully analyze the factors influencing its future prospects.