- Warren Buffett’s conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway owns a variety of companies.
- Some of its units have been able to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, but others have been hit by store closures and furloughs resulting from social-distancing measures.
- Here’s how some of Berkshire Hathaway’s companies are faring amid the coronavirus pandemic.
- Read more on Business Insider.
Few businesses have been able to escape the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns that are keeping millions of Americans at home.
Even Warren Buffett, the so-called oracle of Omaha and legendary investor, is seeing the impact of COVID-19 through the portfolio of Berkshire Hathaway, the company he’s run for more than five decades.
The Berkshire Hathaway portfolio has a diverse group of companies spanning many sectors including insurance, retail, energy, and transportation. While this mix helped Berkshire persevere through the Great Recession of 2008, it’s now seeing that the coronavirus pandemic is wide-reaching. Some companies in the portfolio have so far been able to adapt to the pandemic, but others have been hit by store closures and furloughs amid social-distancing measures.
Berkshire Hathaway will report quarterly results in May, and in the same month will host an online version of its famous annual shareholder meeting. Both events will give investors and industry watchers a glimpse into how Buffett views the current crisis, and what the company will do to weather the economic fallout ahead.
“We’re like the captain of a ship when the worst typhoon that’s ever happened comes,” Buffett’s right-hand man Charlie Munger told The Wall Street Journal in April. “We just want to get through the typhoon, and we’d rather come out of it with a whole lot of liquidity.”
In the same interview, Munger commented that battered companies such as the big-four airlines, of which Berkshire is a shareholder, are not calling on Buffett for bailouts amid the coronavirus crisis.
The company is certainly in solid standing after 2019, when its cash pile grew to a record $US128 billion, with a stock portfolio of more than $US248 billion in value. Still, investors and Buffett himself have been frustrated by the lack of an “elephant-sized” acquisition – the last major purchase the company made was of Precision Castparts in 2016.
Last year, Berkshire Hathaway stock underperformed the S&P 500 as Buffett again failed to make a major acquisition, and put less money into share buybacks than investors hoped. Going forward, investors will be looking for any further indication of what Buffett is thinking on both of those scores.
Here’s how some of the companies in Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio are faring in the coronavirus pandemic, in no particular order:
1. See’s Candies
See’s Candies, one of Buffett’s favourite companies, had to announce furloughs of staff in early April due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg reported. Now, the company is testing whether or not it is safe to open some of its shops, according to the report.
2. Justin Brands
Justin Brands, a shoemaker, has shuttered outlets throughout Missouri, Bloomberg reported. The company also closed two separate production factories in the state and furloughed as many as 161 workers, local paper Springfield News-Leader reported in early April.
Railroad company BNSF is expecting a decline in rail traffic in the first quarter of the year, Bloomberg reported, citing data from the Association of American Railroads and Bloomberg Intelligence.
4. Precision Castparts
Manufacturing company Precision Castparts has also taken a hit,Bloomberg reported. The company in April said that it would temporarily halt operations in its Portland, Oregon, plant due to a reduction in customer orders.
A few of Berkshire Hathaway’s companies have benefited amid the pandemic, including one of the earliest in the portfolio, Geico insurance. As shelter-in-place guidelines have taken hold across the US, they have greatly reduced the number of drivers, and therefore accidents taking place, on the road, Bloomberg reported
Lubrizol, a chemical company, has been able to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic and keep staff on board. Currently, it’s ramping up production of a chemical used in hand sanitizer, as well as prioritising products used in medical manufacturing, according to Bloomberg.
In addition, the company announced Monday that it is contributing to Nike’s efforts to provide full-face shields to frontline medical workers.