American business tycoon Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has reported a net loss of almost $50 billion in the first quarter amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while it also sold off all its airline stocks.
At a virtual shareholder meeting also on Saturday, Buffett announced that his conglomerate has sold all its airline stocks, sending an alarming signal to industry devastated by the global pandemic.
"It turns out I was wrong", he said of his acquisitions of 10% stakes in American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.
Buffett's announcement may further hurt airlines already pushed to the brink by coronavirus lockdown measures, now looking to the United States government for $25 billion in relief funds.
"We've faced great problems in the past, haven't faced this exact problem - in fact we haven't really faced anything that quite resembles this problem", Buffett said in a lengthy speech on the country's economic history.
The billionaire said that the virus is a "huge unknown", so it is unpredictable how the American public will react in case there is a second wave of the epidemic several months from now.
"I don't know anything you don't know about health matters but I do think the range of possibilities has narrowed down", Buffett said about the coronavirus.
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The famously bullish Buffett, however, expressed doubt that the markets have hit bottom yet, admitting "this is a very good time to borrow money", but not lend or invest.
Buffet is considered one of the world's savviest investors. Like many other events, the annual pilgrimage had to go online for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Buffett addressed his shareholders in a livestream flanked only by Gregory Abel, who is in charge of Berkshire's non-insurance operations.
Buffett, in a statement, played down his company's bleak-looking net figure.
While quarterly operating profit rose 6 per cent, several larger businesses including the BNSF railroad posted declines, hurt by the negative impact of Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
By that measure, Berkshire Hathaway saw growth to $5.9 billion from $5.55 billion a year earlier.
The net lost totaled 49.75 billion dollars in the first quarter, or 30,653 dollars per Class A share and 20.44 dollars per Class B share, compared with a net earning of 21.66 billion dollars a year ago, Berkshire said in a news release.
Buffett, 89, is nicknamed the Oracle of Omaha because of his Nebraska roots and investment savvy.