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Berkshire Hathaway reports a $1.5B loss

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway reported a $1.5 billion first-quarter loss as it wrote down its ConocoPhillips investment.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Warren Buffett's company reported a $1.5 billion first-quarter loss as it wrote down its ConocoPhillips investment and mostly unrealized derivative losses helped drag Berkshire Hathaway's results below last year's roughly $900 million profit.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said Friday it recorded a loss of $990 per share in this year's quarter, down from the $607 net income per Class A share reported in the same period a year ago. This was Berkshire's first quarterly loss since 2001's third quarter when the company suffered large insurance losses as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Buffett already acknowledged a mistake in last year's purchase of a large amount of ConocoPhillips stock when oil and gas prices were near their peak.

Berkshire says it sold 13.7 million of its 79.9 million shares of ConocoPhillips during the first quarter to generate a loss that can offset past capital gains taxes.

Berkshire's revenue fell 9.5 percent in the quarter, to $22.8 billion from last year's $25.2 billion.

Berkshire officials say the company's operating earnings are a better measure of how the company is performing in any given period because those figures exclude derivatives and investment gains or losses. Berkshire reported $1.71 billion in operating earnings in this year's first quarter, which was down nearly 12 percent from $1.93 billion in operating earnings a year earlier.

Officials at Berkshire typically do not comment on quarterly earnings reports, and they did not immediately respond to a request on Friday.

But Buffett said during the company's annual meeting last Saturday that Berkshire's utility and insurance businesses performed fairly well during the quarter because neither is greatly affected by the recession, but two one-time items affected the utility earnings. He said insurance underwriting profit should be up slightly because it's not tied to the recession.

Many of Berkshire's other businesses, such as its jewelry stores, Shaw carpet, Acme Brick and Clayton Homes, have been hurt by the recession and corresponding slowdown in consumer spending.

Berkshire owns more than 60 subsidiaries including insurance, clothing, furniture, and candy companies, restaurants, natural gas and corporate jet firms. Berkshire also has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.