Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc on Saturday said gains in its stock investments fueled a big first-quarter profit, while improved results from its Geico auto insurer and BNSF railroad units boosted operating results.
Berkshire also said it repurchased $1.7 billion of its stock in the quarter, reflecting Buffett's troubles to find better uses for the Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate's cash hoard, which now totals $114.2 billion.
Results were released as Buffett, 88, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 95, prepared to answer more than five hours of questions from shareholders and analysts at Berkshire's annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, which draws tens of thousands of people.
The $21.66-billion overall profit, or $13,209 per Class A share, compared with a year-earlier net loss of $1.14 billion, or $692 per share, and a fourth-quarter net loss of $25.39 billion.
These results illustrate what Buffett has called the "wild and capricious" and, in his view, meaningless swings caused by an accounting rule requiring the reporting of unrealized stock gains with earnings, regardless of Berkshire's plans to sell.
Berkshire had $15.1 billion of these gains in the first quarter.
Operating profit, which Buffett considers a better performance measure, rose 5 per cent to $5.56 billion, or about $3,388 per Class A share, from $5.29 billion, or $3,215 per share, a year earlier.
Analysts on average expected operating profit of about $3,399 per Class A share, according to Refinitiv data.
Results excluded operating earnings tied to Berkshire's 26.7 percent stake in Kraft Heinz Co because the food company has not released its own audited quarterly results, Buffett told reporters before the annual meeting.
In last year's fourth quarter, Berkshire took a $3-billion writedown on Kraft.
Geico saw pre-tax underwriting profit rise 14 per cent as rising rates and premiums offset higher accident claims.
BNSF's profit rose 9 per cent to $1.25 billion as higher demand from the energy and industrial sectors offset lower volumes attributed to severe winter weather and flooding.
Among other businesses, the Berkshire Hathaway Energy unit posted a 3-per cent profit increase, while earnings from retailing and services units increased 16 per cent, despite a 19 per cent revenue drop at See's Candies because Easter fell late.
Berkshire owns more than 90 companies.
The Berkshire investment is contingent on Occidental completing its proposed purchase of Anadarko.
Berkshire's Class A shares closed Friday at $327,765.61, and its Class B shares closed at $218.60.