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Berkshire Hathaway operating earnings rise on insurance strength as cash pile nears $150 billion



Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. posted $10.04 billion in second-quarter operating profit as strength in its insurance businesses helped counter inflationary pressures that have weighed on the sprawling conglomerate in the last year. 

Profit from insurance underwriting increased by 74% to $1.25 billion, helping Berkshire post operating profit that surpassed its $9.28 billion haul from the same period last year.

The company’s Geico insurance unit, which struggled with unprofitability throughout 2022, posted positive results for the second quarter in a row. Berkshire cited a benefit from higher premiums over the last year and lower claim frequencies, as well as a reduction in advertising spending. Still, over the last 12 months, policies-in-force decreased by 2.7 million, suggesting the cuts to advertising spending are costing the conglomerate’s auto insurer market share.

Berkshire posted stronger results despite Buffett cautioning at its annual meeting in Omaha in May that earnings at the majority of its operating units could fall this year amid higher prices as an “incredible period” for the US economy draws to the end. Still, the Federal Reserve’s aggressive pace of rate hikes has helped the firm reap greater yield on the cash it stockpiles primarily in short-dated US Treasuries. Buffett said on Thursday that Fitch Ratings’ downgrade of US government debt wouldn’t diminish his appetite for it.

Read More: Berkshire Poised for Gains on Rate Hikes, Countering Slumps

That cash hoard reached $147.4 billion in the quarter, the second-highest level in data going back to 2014. In recent years, the conglomerate has struggled with a high-class problem: a surplus of cash and nothing to spend it on as elevated public-market valuations deprive the billionaire investor of acquisition targets.

The dearth of opportunities has led Berkshire to pursue share buybacks at a more aggressive pace, a strategy Buffett once shunned. But the company’s Class B shares are nearing a record high, representing a potential impediment to that strategy. Berkshire spent $1.4 billion in the quarter on share buybacks.

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