Hurricanes, earthquake drag down profit at Buffett’s Berkshire

(Reuters) – Bad weather hurt Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) in the third quarter, as insurance losses tied to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and an earthquake in Mexico contributed to a 43 percent drop in profit.

FILE PHOTO – Berkshire Hathaway shareholders walk by a video screen at the company’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. on May 4, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

Berkshire on Friday said it lost $1.95 billion after taxes from claims tied to the disasters, leaving its Geico auto insurance, General Re reinsurance and Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance units with underwriting losses for the year.

Insurance typically accounts for about one-fourth of Berkshire’s overall profit. Berkshire has roughly 90 businesses in such sectors as chemicals, energy, food and retail, and industrial products, and also owns the BNSF railroad.

Overall net income fell to $4.07 billion, or $2,473 per Class A share, from $7.2 billion, or $4,379 per share, a year earlier.

Operating profit, which excludes investment and derivative gains and losses and which Buffett says better reflects company performance, fell 29 percent to $3.44 billion, or $2,094 per Class A share, from $4.85 billion, or $2,951 per share.

That missed analysts’ average operating profit forecast of $2,402.47 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate’s diversification cushioned the earnings decline, and included higher profit at the BNSF and Berkshire Hathaway Energy units.

Despite the storms, book value per Class A share, measuring assets minus liabilities, rose 2.5 percent in the quarter to $187,435, and is up 8.9 percent this year.

Berkshire also ended September with $109.3 billion of cash and equivalents, more than five times the $20 billion minimum Buffett has said he prefers, and investors are waiting to see what he does with it.

Buffett, 87, has run Berkshire since 1965, and investors have remained confident in his leadership, having boosted the company’s share price 15 percent this year.

The Class A shares closed Friday down $2,963.99 at $280,470.01, while Class B shares fell $1.34 to $187.27. Both were about 2 percent below their Oct. 24 record highs.


Berkshire lost $1.44 billion from insurance underwriting in the quarter and $1.73 billion from January to September, putting it on pace for its first full-year underwriting loss since 2002.

It had even eked out a small underwriting profit in 2005, the year of Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma, Rita and Dennis.

But investment income from insurance operations cushioned the blow, rising 23 percent to $1.04 billion.

Losses could have been even greater had Berkshire not cut back exposure in reinsurance, including for major catastrophes, after a glut of capital caused premiums to decline.

Other insurers and reinsurers such as Allstate Corp (ALL.N), American International Group Inc (AIG.N) and Swiss Re AG (SRENH.S) also suffered larger quarterly storm losses, and are hoping to boost rates.

Berkshire’s results also reflected an accounting charge tied to its January agreement to assume many of AIG’s policies in exchange for $10.2 billion upfront.

But that and other premiums that Berkshire receives before paying claims have helped boost insurance “float” to $113 billion, giving Buffett more money to invest.

Some of its cash hoard will eventually be used to buy 80 percent of Pilot Flying J, the largest U.S. truck stop operator. Buffett announced that investment on Oct. 3.

Berkshire also owns dozens of stocks such as Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N), and has a 26.7 percent stake in food company Kraft Heinz Co (KHC.O).

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Tom Brown

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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