Here’s how the Warren Buffett-led conglomerate is doing.
Warren Buffett and the rest of Berkshire Hathaway‘s (BRK.A -2.94%)(BRK.B -2.55%) senior leadership team welcomed tens of thousands of investors back to Omaha this weekend for the company’s first in-person shareholder meeting since 2019. And as Berkshire does before every annual shareholder meeting, the company gave investors a glimpse of its first-quarter earnings.
With that, here are some of the most important takeaways from the report, and why Berkshire’s earnings report doesn’t tell the whole story.
Berkshire’s earnings declined … or did they?
At first glance, the numbers might suggest Berkshire had a terrible quarter. Its net income in the first quarter was $5.46 billion, compared to $11.71 billion in the first quarter of 2021.
However, as Buffett was quick to point out at the meeting, unlike many public companies, Berkshire likes to tell shareholders how much the company really earned.
The big difference between the first quarter of this year and the comparable 2021 period is that Berkshire’s stock investments generally declined. Due to an accounting rule, Berkshire is required to include unrealized gains and losses in its earnings calculations. In the first quarter of 2021, Berkshire’s stocks increased in value by $4.7 billion, while they declined by $1.58 billion in the first quarter of this year. But Berkshire hasn’t actually lost anything — its portfolio just changed in value.
Looking at the earnings of Berkshire’s operating businesses, the company earned a little over $7 billion for the quarter, which actually represents a slight gain over last year, despite a significantly more difficult environment for the company’s insurance businesses. Specifically, underwriting profits from GEICO plunged compared to 2021, when far fewer cars were on the road due to the pandemic.
Buffett and Munger still think Berkshire is cheap
Berkshire’s share buyback plan allows Buffett and longtime partner Charlie Munger to buy back shares with Berkshire’s capital whenever they both agree it is trading significantly below its intrinsic value. And despite Berkshire’s stock performing quite well throughout the first quarter, the company spent about $3.1 billion buying back its own stock.
Berkshire’s share count has declined by about 4% over the past year due to buybacks — not exactly the most aggressive pace of any public company, but it’s still a strong sign that Buffett and Munger are willing to put billions of Berkshire’s capital into buybacks.
Berkshire’s cash stockpile declined
We also got a look at Berkshire’s cash position as of the end of the first quarter. And to the delight of shareholders who have been waiting for Berkshire to put some of its cash to work, it actually declined — and by a significant amount.
Berkshire ended 2021 with over $140 billion in cash on its balance sheet, and this has now declined to “only” $106 billion. Buffett revealed at the shareholder meeting that the company deployed $51 billion into stocks (some of this came from Berkshire’s operating income).
There’s quite a bit that is not in the letter
As a final point, it’s important to mention that some of the most important developments to take place in Berkshire’s first quarter aren’t in its earnings report.
Specifically, while we know Berkshire was a net buyer of stocks for the first time in several quarters, we don’t know all of the specifics of the stock portfolio. We know Berkshire purchased large amounts of Occidental Petroleum, HP, and Chevron — and Buffett announced during the afternoon Q&A session that Berkshire now owns a 9.5% stake in Activision Blizzard, a potential arbitrage opportunity if regulators approve the video game company’s sale to Microsoft. But there could also be new positions we won’t know until Berkshire files its Form 13-F in a couple weeks.