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Buffett's Berkshire posts $1.53bn Q1 loss

Washington, May 9, 2009

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway posted a $1.53 billion first quarterly loss since 2001, hurt by losses on derivative contracts, a big investment in the oil company ConocoPhillips, and the weakening economy.

The net loss for the Omaha, Nebraska-based insurance and investment company was $1.53 billion, or $990 per Class A share, and compared with a profit of $940 million, or $607, a year earlier.

Excluding investments, operating profit fell 12 percent to $1.71 billion, or $1,100 per share, from $1.93 billion, or $1,247. That profit was in line with the $1.7 billion that Buffett estimated at Berkshire's annual meeting last Saturday.

Analysts on average expected operating profit of $1,087 per share, according to Reuters Estimates. Revenue fell 9.5 percent to $22.78 billion. Book value per Class A share fell 6.1 percent to $66,248, following a 9.6 percent drop in 2008.

Buffett said many of Berkshire's nearly 80 businesses were hurt by the recession and lower consumer spending, including housing-related units that make bricks, insulation and paint.

Berkshire last had a quarterly loss in the third quarter of 2001, because of insurance claims from the September 11 attacks. It called the global credit crisis 'temporary,' but said the company could face 'significant' pressure if it persists.

'Results reflect the overall economy, which Buffett does not expect to recover quickly,' said Michael Yoshikami, president of YCMNET Advisors in Walnut Creek, California, which owns Berkshire shares.

Two credit rating agencies took away Berkshire's 'triple-A' ratings in 2009, including Moody's Investors Service. Berkshire owns 20.4 percent of Moody's parent, Moody's Corp.

The results reflected $2.01 billion of writedowns on investments, including $1.9 billion tied to ConocoPhillips.

Buffett invested $7.01 billion in the company's stock, but in February admitted to 'terrible timing' for investing ahead of a plunge in oil prices from their record high near $150 a barrel.

Berkshire said it sold 13.7 million shares in the first quarter, leaving it with 71.2 million. It said it has since sold more and is likely to keep selling shares at a loss.

Results also included $986 million of derivatives losses, including $675 million of payments tied to junk bond defaults as a result of several corporate bankruptcies. Berkshire has since paid another $450 million because of other defaults.

The company as of March 31 had $13.85 billion of paper losses on derivatives contracts designed to make money if stock indexes rise and higher-risk bonds do not default. Accounting rules require Berkshire to report these losses with earnings.

'Conoco reflected his bad decision to buy when oil prices were high and the losses reflect how Buffett is not afraid to admit a mistake,' Yoshikami said. 'The derivative problems seem to have accelerated, though Buffett is probably doing better this quarter with the stock index derivatives.'

The stock index derivative contracts mature between 2019 and 2027 and Buffett said last week he expects them to be profitable. Contracts tied to junk bond defaults mature between 2009 and 2013, and Buffett admitted they may lose money.-Reuters




Tags: loss | Buffett | Berkshire Hathaway |

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