Warren Buffett: 'American magic' will spur United States economic recovery

Buffett's firm reports nearly $50B loss as investments drop

Warren Buffett: 'American magic' will spur US economic recovery

Hard-hit by the market rout surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company of Warren Buffett, has reported first-quarter net losses of almost US$50 billion, it reported Saturday.

Buffett's comments came just hours after Berkshire Hathaway announced a record $US50 billion ($NZ82.4b) net first quarter loss, Reuters news agency reports.

But it won't be in USA airlines, after Buffett confirmed that Berkshire in April sold its "entire positions" in the four largest: American Airlines Group Inc, Delta Air Lines Inc, Southwest Airlines Co and United Airlines Holdings Inc.

Between the purchases that took place over months, and the sale, "the airlines business I think changed in a very major way" and could no longer meet Berkshire criteria for profitability, he said.

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During a live-streamed podcast Saturday for Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting, Buffett said it "was a mistake" to invest so much into airlines during a time when travel has dwindled because so many people are under "stay at home" orders.

But the devastating economic impact of the pandemic has hit hard at Berkshire Hathaway's wide range of investments, and the need for social distancing forced it to hold the annual meeting online. "I don't know if Americans have now changed their habits or will change their habits because of the extended period". Still, Berkshire's operating profits were 6 percent higher than in 2019, reaching $5.87 billion.

Buffett also said he remains keen on making a big acquisition, which he has not done since 2016, but has not provided financial support to companies as he did during the 2008 financial crisis because he saw nothing attractive enough, even after the recent bear market. "It is basically that we shut off air travel in this country".

The disclosure was among the most significant at the annual meeting, which was notable for its different feel this year as the event that usually draws tens of thousands was hosted virtually.

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Buffett addressed his shareholders in a livestream flanked only by Gregory Abel, who is in charge of Berkshire's non-insurance operations. Jain, vice chairman overseeing Berkshire's insurance businesses, didn't attend the meeting either. Mr Berkshire disclosed in April that it had at least trimmed its Delta and Southwest stakes, both of which had previously been above a 10 per cent ownership level.

Berkshire wouldn't be alone.

Shareholders also elected Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of longtime Berkshire holding American Express Co, to Berkshire's board, making him the company's first African American director.

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