Berkshire Hathaway said Saturday that it lost $12.8 billion, or $8,824 per Class A share, in the quarter. That’s significantly bigger than the $2.8 billion loss, or $1,907 per Class A share, that it reported a year ago.
But most of those investment losses are unrealized becauseBerkshire didn’t actually sell most of its stocks with its biggest holding being a massive stake in Apple. Accounting rules require it to include the value of its investments, which it put at $341.1 billion at the end of the quarter, in its earnings. Last quarter, it said its stock portfolio was worth $353 billion.
That’s why Buffett has long said investors are better served focusing on Berkshire’s operating earnings, which exclude the value of its investments that can vary widely quarter to quarter. By that measure, Berkshire said its operating profit jumped nearly 41% to $10.8 billion, or $7,437.15 per Class A share. That’s up from $7.65 billion, or $5,215.60 per Class A share, a year ago.
The three analysts surveyed by FactSet Research expected Berkshire to report operating earnings per share of $6,540.23 on average.
Berkshire’s insurance unit was helped by relatively low losses related to major catastrophes like hurricanes this year and a rebound in Geico’s profits. Altogether, Berkshire’s insurers contributed $2.4 billion to its operating profit. A year ago, the insurers reported a $1.1 billion loss in the third quarter.
In addition to insurers, the Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate owns BNSF railroad, several major utilities and an eclectic assortment of manufacturing and retail firms including aviation parts maker Precision Castparts, See’s Candy, Dairy Queen and Helzberg Diamonds.
Berkshire did repurchase $1.1 billion of its own stock in the quarter, but the pace of its buybacks is down considerably from the first quarter, when it bought $4.4 billion of Berkshire shares. Buffett only buys back Berkshire’s shares when he believes they are selling for a bargain.
Buffett continues to sit on a massive pile of cash because he hasn’t made any major investments or acquisitions this year. Berkshire had $157.2 billion in cash at the end of the quarter, up from $147.4 billion at the end of the second quarter.