Berkshire Hathaway operating earnings soar 39% as Buffett’s cash hoard swells to record $188 billion

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Warren Buffett walks the floor ahead of the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska on May 3, 2024. 
David A. Grogen | CNBC

Berkshire Hathaway reported Saturday a huge year-over-year increase in operating earnings in the first quarter, while its cash holdings bubbled to record levels.

The Warren Buffett-led conglomerate posted an operating profit — which encompasses earnings from the company’s wholly owned businesses — that surged 39% to $11.22 billion from the year-earlier period.

That gain was led by a 185% year-on-year increase in insurance underwriting earnings to $2.598 billion from just $911 million. Insurance investment income also swelled 32% to more than $2.5 billion.

Berkshire’s railroad business raked in $1.14 billion in profit, down slightly from the first quarter of 2023. Its energy division saw earnings nearly double to $717 million from $416 million a year prior.

First-quarter net earnings, which include fluctuations from Berkshires stock investments, fell 64% to $12.7 billion. However, this is because of massive gains in Berkshire’s stock portfolio as the market surged to start 2023. Buffett calls these unrealized investing gains (or losses) each quarter meaningless and misleading, but the unique conglomerate is required to report these numbers based on generally accepted accounting principles.

Record cash hoard

The company’s cash hoard reached a record high of $188.99 billion, up from $167.6 billion in the fourth quarter. That massive holding, well above a CFRA Research estimate of more than $170 billion, points to Buffett’s inability to find a suitable major acquisition target — which he has lamented in recent years.

The report comes ahead the company’s annual shareholder meeting, known as “Woodstock for Capitalists.” Buffett will answer questions from shareholders on everything ranging from the conglomerate’s holdings as well as his thoughts on investing and the economy.

This will also be the first annual meeting since the death of Vice Chairman Charlie Munger in November.

Year to date, Berkshire Class A shares are up more than 11%, reaching an all-time high in late February. The Class B stock, meanwhile, has gained more than 12% in that time.

Check out CNBC’s full coverage of this year’s annual meeting here.

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