Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s
third-quarter profit rose as investments rallied, though a loss for the company’s insurance underwriting pinched its operating profit.
Berkshire reported third-quarter net earnings of $30.1 billion, or $18,994 per Class A share equivalent, up from $16.5 billion, or $10,119 per Class A share equivalent, in the year-earlier period.
Operating earnings, which exclude some investment results, fell to $5.5 billion from $8.1 billion the year prior.
Warren Buffett’s sprawling Omaha, Neb., conglomerate owns a large insurance business as well as railroads, utilities, manufacturers and well-known American retail brands such as Fruit of the Loom, Dairy Queen and Oscar Meyer.
The company’s quarterly results were boosted by its vast investment portfolio.
An accounting-rule change in recent years has meant that Berkshire’s earnings often reflect the larger performance of the stock market. Stocks rallied in the third quarter, with the S&P 500 up 8.5%.
Despite the improved bottom line, operating earnings fell at Berkshire as its insurance underwriting results swung to a loss from a profit. Several insurance companies posted their quarterly earnings this week with largely mixed results.
In some ways, the coronavirus pandemic has helped insurers as fewer miles driven has led to a significant decline in claims. Berkshire notably owns one of the largest car insurers in the country, Geico. In April, the car insurer announced $2.5 billion in policy credits, joining several other large insurers in issuing customer rebates.
On the other hand, Covid-19 has upended so many parts of daily life beyond miles driven that have led to increased claims, from canceled events to travel insurance. Moreover, insurers have also felt a rush of claims thanks to hurricane season and wildfires on the West Coast.
The company, which for years shunned stock buybacks, bought back $9 billion in shares, bringing the total of stock buybacks to $16 billion for the year so far.
The 90-year-old Mr. Buffett continues to practice restraint in spending the company’s large cash pile. For years he has said he is waiting for the right big deal at the right price. He has faced competition from aggressive private-equity firms.
Berkshire held $145.7 billion in cash at the end of the third quarter, down from about $146.6 billion in cash at the end of the second quarter.
“I still hold out the view that they are waiting for that big fat elephant to walk by,” said David Marcus, co-founder and chief executive of Evermore Global Advisors, as Mr. Buffett calls large acquisitions. Mr. Marcus has personally held Berkshire stock since the mid-1990s.
“I just think it’s a matter of time. It could happen next week or next year,” he said, adding that recent big company spinoffs could create an opportunity for Berkshire.
Nevertheless, Berkshire had hardly been standing still over the last few months, investing $6 billion in five Japanese trading companies, buying midstream energy business
Dominion Energy Inc.
for $9.7 billion and disclosing a $565 million stake in gold mining company
Barrick Gold Corp.
In a surprise to many investors, Berkshire put $250 million into cloud-based software company
as it went public in September. Berkshire has long been careful with its investments in technology.
Berkshire holds a vast investment portfolio, the largest of which is
This summer, Berkshire dumped some of its bank stocks but added to its
Bank of America
holdings. The conglomerate will update its quarterly investment filings later this month.
The Bank of America investment may also have been partly about technology. Bank of America has been a leader in consumer digital engagement, said Mac Sykes, portfolio manager and member of the global research team at Gabelli Funds.
“I don’t think he is abandoning the bank space. But I think he just kind of narrowed his focus on more specific institutions,” he said.
Mr. Sykes said Bank of America’s growing deposits, conservative lending and senior leadership also fit into Berkshire’s wheelhouse.
Berkshire’s Class A shares closed Friday at $313,885, down 7.6% for the year. The S&P 500 index increased 8.6% year to date.
Source: – The Wall Street Journal
Europe's Biggest Utility Unveils $190 Billion Investment Plan – BNN
(Bloomberg) — Enel SpA, Europe’s biggest utility, is set to invest 160 billion euros ($190 billion) over the next 10 years on a bet that demand for green energy and electrification will surge globally.
Under Chief Executive Officer Francesco Starace, Enel has sought to ride the accelerating shift to a low-carbon world, committing vast sums of money to expanding its renewable power, networks and energy-efficiency divisions. Its bold investment plan comes as competition for new projects intensifies, with utilities now vying with oil majors pushing more aggressively into the sector.
Enel plans to invest about 40 billion euros over the next three years, driving annual profit gains of as much as 10% over the period, the Rome-based company said Tuesday. Almost half of that spending will be channeled to renewable energies.
It’s a “monster investment” program and is above expectations, Roberto Letizia, an analyst at Equita SIM SpA, said in a note.
Enel’s shares jumped as much as 3.3% in Milan, the most in two weeks. The stock traded up 3.2% at 8.34 euros as of 11:39 a.m. local time, extending its gain this year to 18%.
The utility will offer shareholders a guaranteed fixed dividend with a target of 43 euro cents a share in 2023, the strategic plan shows. An increase in the use of so-called sustainable finance — which will account for about half of total gross debt in 2023 — will allow Enel to lower its cost of borrowing.
The company made no mention Tuesday of any decision on the potential sale of its 50% stake in telecommunications company Open Fiber SpA. The Italian government, which owns about 24% of Enel, has pressed the utility to sell its holding, which has attracted a 2.65 billion-euro bid from Macquarie Group Ltd.
Starace did however touch on acquisition opportunities, saying Enel would favor distribution networks over generation assets.
“We keep this approach open,” he said during a presentation. If an opportunity arises, “we think this is the right time.”
Enel said almost half of its investments will be directed to developing infrastructure and networks, while the rest will be allocated to power generation. The company expects to have about 120 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2030, almost three times more than the current level.
Enel forecast an increase of 8% to 10% a year in adjusted net income through 2023. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization will rise 5% to 6% annually, reaching as much as 21.3 billion euros in 2023.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Germany's Short-Lived Rebound Driven by Consumption, Investment – BNN
(Bloomberg) — German consumers and companies ramped up spending before a resurgence in coronavirus cases forced authorities to reintroduce restrictions, putting a halt to the recovery in Europe’s largest economy.
Figures from the statistics office show private consumption rose 10.8% in the three months through September with investment up 3.6%, contributing to an overall quarterly expansion of 8.5% — stronger than initially reported. Since then, temporary business closures and rules affecting social activities have plunged parts of the economy back into a slump.
Output is likely to stagnate or even shrink in the final three months of the year, the Bundesbank said last week. While domestic restrictions are weaker and more focused on hospitality and leisure activities than during the first wave, exports are suffering from a resurgence of the virus across Europe, it said.
Sales abroad jumped more than 18% in the third quarter, with imports up some 9%.
A business confidence gauge due later on Tuesday is expected to deteriorate, mirroring trends from across the euro area. Lockdowns have put the 19-nation economy on track for another contraction, according to a survey published Monday.
Germany’s outlook could take a turn for the worse on Wednesday when Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s regional leaders will decide on whether to tighten and extend virus curbs through much of the upcoming holiday season.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Without investment, universities and colleges heading for a crisis – Toronto Star
Universities and colleges employ hundreds of thousands of people, educate and train over two million students annually and drive research that improves the lives of all Canadians. In cities and communities across the country, they are regional economic drivers and social and cultural centres. Our world-class post-secondary education system is critical to our prosperity, underpins our democracy and finds solutions to key challenges, be it COVID or climate change.
All of this is in peril — and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public funding for post-secondary education has been stagnant for more than a decade. COVID-19 has brought the system closer to the edge. Strategic investments in universities and colleges must be made now to ensure a strong economic recovery and a more resilient future for Canadians.
COVID-19 has strained resources and reduced revenues, especially from international student fees. For decades, in the absence of sustainable government funding, students and their families have been asked to pay more. Private sources of funding now make up over half of university revenues, up from just 20 per cent when the parents of students may have once been on campus.
Since the last recession in 2008, provincial government spending in the sector has decreased by one per cent in real terms. Meanwhile, student enrolment has grown by more than 20 per cent over the same time, and income from tuition by nearly 70 per cent. With more than half of all university students already taking on an average of $28,000 of debt to get an education, reliance on student fees to solve the funding crisis simply isn’t sustainable.
There are three areas that need immediate action from the federal government to put post-secondary education on stable footing and improve quality, affordability and accessibility.
First, we need a national strategy for post-secondary education with goals to tackle education inequality, enhance affordability and strengthen research capacity. The last time the federal government increased the base funding to the provinces and territories for post-secondary education was in 2008 under Stephen Harper and this came with no plan of action to address key challenges.
Secondly, we need to accelerate research through enhanced investments in fundamental research. The government’s own advisory panel recommended funding levels 40 per cent higher than what we are investing today to keep Canada competitive.
The pandemic has also put much research on hold. In a survey of Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) members, two out of three have seen their research stop or stall as a result of the pandemic. This hiatus in research will have a significant downstream impact on the innovation and knowledge that supports Canada’s economy.
Finally, we need to secure opportunities for youth and the unemployed by decreasing upfront costs and moving to a free tuition model for working- and middle-class Canadians. The government’s temporary doubling of the Canada Student Grant this year will help students cover costs this term, however it is still less than the average tuition.
It is also an unsustainable approach.
While we have seen increases in student financial assistance, we have also seen increases in tuition. As some provincial officials half-joke, the best way to leverage federal funding for post-secondary education is to raise tuition, as this will increase demands for federally funded student financial assistance.
Some of the necessary changes to the funding model for post-secondary education could be met by redirecting the $900 million in unused federal funding from the failed Canada Student Service Grant program. The government could also repurpose the Canada Training Benefit to ensure that Canadians have more meaningful and timely access to educational opportunities.
There are many public services and sectors that need strengthening to get us out of the current crisis and be better for it. Post-secondary education is an essential foundation for social cohesion, science, innovation and economic success in Canada, and must not be taken for granted. We cannot let it languish now, when it is so critical to the well-being of our country.
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