Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate run by billionaire Warren Buffett, has reported a quarterly operating profit rise of 67%, as insurance underwriting rebounded and several business units benefited from a growing economy.
Underwriting profit at the Geico auto insurance unit more than quintupled, the BNSF railroad benefited from demand to ship consumer products, and the Berkshire Hathaway Automotive car dealership financed more vehicle purchases. Berkshire also said second-quarter net income nearly tripled, though that reflected a new accounting rule requiring it to report unrealised investment gains with earnings. Mr Buffett said the rule distorts net results and can mislead investors.
Results also reflected a decline in Berkshire’s effective income tax rate to 20% from 28.9%, following last year’s cut in the US federal corporate tax rate.
Berkshire is based in Omaha, Nebraska, and has more than 90 businesses in the insurance, chemicals, energy, food and retail, industrial parts, railroad and other sectors.
Their day-to-day operations are overseen by Greg Abel and Ajit Jain, each seen by investors as a possible successor to the 87 year-old Mr Buffett as chief executive. Mr Buffett and vice-chairman Charlie Munger, who is 94, handle major capital allocation decisions.
Berkshire ended June with $111.1bn of cash and equivalents, some of which could be used to repurchase stock under a new policy giving Mr Buffett and Mr Munger more freedom to buy back stock they considered undervalued.
Mr Buffett has not bought back stock in 2018, but has spent money on stocks, and Berkshire said it ended June with a $47.2bn stake in Apple. Apple’s share price at the time suggests that Berkshire may have bought about 15 million Apple shares in the second quarter, on top of 239.6 million it already owned.
The iPhone maker last week became the first US-listed company whose stock market value topped $1 trillion.