Berkshire Hathaway AGM: Warren Buffett says 'nothing can stop America'

Berkshire Hathaway AGM: Warren Buffett says 'nothing can stop America'

Berkshire Hathaway AGM: Warren Buffett says 'nothing can stop America'

Buffett's announcement might further hurt airlines pushed to the brink by coronavirus lockdowns and looking to the United States government for US$25 billion in relief funds.

Berkshire's first-quarter net loss was $49.75 billion, or $30,653 per Class A share, reflecting $54.52 billion of losses on stock and other investments.

While Berkshire bought back US$1.7 billion of its shares in the first quarter, it was a net seller of stocks through April as it shed stakes in four major USA airlines.

According to the company's listings, it held an 11 percent stake in Delta Air Lines, 10 percent of American Airlines Co, 10 percent of Southwest Airlines Co and a nine percent of United Airlines at the end of 2019.

Berkshire, a US multinational conglomerate holding company, based in Omaha, Nebraska, was founded by legendary investor Buffett.

Buffett said he "made a mistake" investing in the sector, which the pandemic has changed "in a very major way" with no fault of the airlines, leaving limited upside for investors.

Buffett added that the companies were well-managed, but the future of airlines was less clear.

Berkshire Hathaway took a US$50 billion (AU$77 billion) hit this quarter, with Buffett indicating coronavirus had a large role to play.

"I don't know the consequences" of shutting down large parts of the US economy, Buffett said, though Berkshire's operating earnings will be "considerably less" than if the virus hadn't hit. American "magic" prevailed before and would do again, he said.

"We are now a better country, as well as an incredibly more wealthy country, than we were in 1789. We got a long way to go, but we moved in the right direction", he said, referencing the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage.

Abel has day-to-day oversight of Berkshire's non-insurance businesses, and is considered by many analysts and investors a top candidate to eventually succeed Buffett as chief executive. His fortune of US$72 billion is the fourth-largest in the world, according to Forbes, and in normal years, the company's annual gathering in Omaha is the highpoint of investors' calendar: a "Woodstock for capitalists".

During his live-streamed annual meeting, Buffett said the business has fundamentally changed following the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Buffett said Munger is in good health and he will return to the annual meeting next year. A year earlier, net earnings totaled over 20 billion dollars.

Many of its companies - including in rail transport, energy production and some manufacturing and service businesses - are deemed essential and are able to continue working amid the far-reaching confinement orders.

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