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Buffett stays on sidelines with cash pile rising to US$137B – BNNBloomberg.ca

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Warren Buffett has been waiting years for stocks to look more attractive. He apparently didn’t think the first-quarter plunge was that opportunity.

As the coronavirus slowdown started to grip the U.S., the famed investor’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. was building its massive cash pile to a record US$137 billion by the end of March. The company said that figure climbed even higher as it dumped more than US$6 billion of stocks in April, making Buffett a net seller of equities so far this year.

Buffett, who will host Berkshire’s annual meeting virtually later Saturday, has largely stayed in the shadows as the pandemic hammered the global economy and stock markets. That’s a contrast to the financial crisis in 2008, when his Omaha-based company dipped into its vast cash reserves to gain lucrative preferred shares and rescue businesses teetering on the edge of collapse. While Berkshire’s operating earnings climbed in the first quarter, Buffett warned of pain from the virus’s fallout.

“As efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated in the second half of March and continued through April, most of our businesses were negatively affected, with the effects to date ranging from relatively minor to severe,” the company said in a regulatory filing Saturday.

The sharp drop in stocks sparked a debate over whether the slide was overblown, with some financial leaders highlighting buying opportunities and others predicting more pain to come. Those looking to Buffett for bullish signs would be left wanting. Berkshire reduced its stock buybacks even as its shares saw their biggest quarterly decline in more than a decade, while the US$6.1 billion of net equities sales in April far outstripped the US$1.8 billion of net purchases in the year’s first three months.

“Historically, he’s been pretty visible in the marketplace, encouraging investors to take advantage of market downturns and being greedy when others are fearful,” Jim Shanahan, an analyst at Edward Jones, said in a phone interview. “But if Buffett himself isn’t seeing opportunities, even in his own stock, what are we to think about the recent market selloff? Is it not a buying opportunity for long-term investors?”

Berkshire’s Class A shares have dropped about 19 per cent this year through Friday’s close, worse than the 12-per-cent decline in the S&P 500 over the same time period.

Berkshire repurchased just US$1.7 billion of its own stock, less than it did in the last three months of 2019. The company recently disclosed that it pared back stakes in Delta Air Lines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. as airlines have been pummeled by travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders worldwide.

Buffett, Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive officer, has been on the hunt for higher-returning investments such as acquisitions or stock purchases for years, but has struggled amid what he called “sky-high” prices. That has prompted a range of questions about whether he can continue the market-beating run that turned Berkshire into one of the world’s most valuable companies.

“He’s really careful about taking on risks that he can’t really ascertain, and I think that’s what’s happening now,” said Paul Lountzis, who oversees investments including Berkshire shares as president of Lountzis Asset Management.

The conglomerate’s first-quarter net income plunged to a loss of US$49.7 billion, driven by US$55.5 billion in unrealized losses in the huge stock portfolio. Gains in the insurance unit’s investing portfolio helped push operating earnings up almost six per cent to US$5.87 billion.

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Berkshire started to see the COVID-19 pandemic affect units including its railroad, BNSF, which reported a 5.2-per-cent decrease in volume in the first quarter. Precision Castparts, which makes products for industrial and energy companies, reported lower sales across all of its major markets, partially because of the pandemic and Boeing Co.’s 737 Max issues. The company’s footwear and apparel businesses were also hit, reporting a 34-per-cent decline in earnings.

The company said its essential businesses that have remained open saw revenue slow “considerably” in April, while many of those that had to close are being “severely impacted.” Berkshire didn’t record any goodwill impairments in the quarter, but said it may have to write down the value of some of its businesses at its next review in the fourth quarter. Still, the company called its liquidity and capital “extremely strong.”

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

“Berkshire Hathaway should still produce solid earnings and remain a bastion of financial strength, but stark 1Q declines bode poorly for 2020 comparisons.” —Matthew Palazola, senior industry analyst, and Derek Han, associate analyst

Buffett will host the annual meeting starting at 3:45 p.m. in Omaha with key deputy Greg Abel by his side. Buffett’s longtime business partner, Charlie Munger, won’t be in attendance. Follow the TopLive blog here.

Here are other details from Berkshire’s earnings report:

• Berkshire’s businesses have implemented business-continuity plans to help weather the crisis and are “preparing for reduced cash flows from reduced revenues and economic activity as a result of COVID-19.”

• Some operations have had to furlough employees, reduce wages and salaries, or cut back on capital spending to help mitigate the losses, Berkshire said in the report. See’s Candies, which Buffett bought in 1972, announced in early April that it would furlough retail workers and said more recently that it was testing reopening a few stores.

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OPEC+ Agrees On Extending Record Output Cuts – OilPrice.com

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OPEC+ Agrees On Extending Record Output Cuts | OilPrice.com

Tom Kool

Tom majored in International Business at Amsterdam’s Higher School of Economics, he is Oilprice.com’s Head of Operations

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    OPEC and its partners concluded their meeting on Saturday afternoon, announcing that it would extend its current production cut deal.

    Algeria’s Energy Minister Mohamed Arkab, OPEC’s current President summed up the group’s sentiment by saying that “Despite the progress achieved to date, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels,”.

    The last couple of days, the cartel’s de-facto leader Saudi Arabia negotiated with other OPEC members and some non-OPEC countries including Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to extend the current 9.7 million bpd output cuts for at least another month.

    Most countries partaking in the record production cuts were willing to continue the current deal, but poor compliance from countries like Iraq, Nigeria and Kazakhstan has caused discontent among other OPEC members, some of which have even made deeper cuts than agreed on in April.

    During the virtual meeting on Saturday, the cartel agreed that the countries that were unable to reach full conformity in May and June will have to compensate for this in July, August and September.

    Oil prices effectively doubled during the month of May as global demand started to recover and record output cuts and worldwide well shut-ins decreased the monster glut.

    While the OPEC+ deal extension undoubtedly will have a bullish effect on markets, prices aren’t likely to rip much higher on Monday as the OPEC+ news has largely been priced in already.

    For oil prices to make a full recovery, global demand will have to recover and crude inventories have to be drawn down, both of which will likely take up to two years. Pioneer’s Scott Sheffield said that the quick rebound of demand to around 94-95 mb/d following the “reopening” of so many economies will give way to stagnation, saying that demand won’t reach pre-pandemic levels until 2022 or even 2023.

    For now, the next bullish catalyst for oil could come from Saudi Aramco, which could set the trend for higher oil prices in June as it is expected to release its OSPs (official selling prices) on Monday. Aramco’s OSPs are often a leading indicator for Iraqi, Iranian and Kuwaiti crude prices, and last month, Brent futures rallied after Riyadh hiked its prices for crude to Asia.

    By Tom Kool of Oilprice.com

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      OPEC, Russia to extend record oil cuts to end of July amid pandemic – CBC.ca

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      OPEC, Russia and allies agreed on Saturday to extend record oil production cuts until the end of July, prolonging a deal that has helped crude prices double in the past two months by withdrawing almost 10 per cent of global supplies from the market.

      The group, known as OPEC+, also demanded countries such as Nigeria and Iraq, which exceeded production quotas in May and June, compensate with extra cuts in July to September.

      OPEC+ had initially agreed in April that it would cut supply by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) during May-June to prop up prices that collapsed due to the coronavirus crisis. Those cuts were due to taper to 7.7 million bpd from July to December.

      “Demand is returning as big oil-consuming economies emerge from pandemic lockdown. But we are not out of the woods yet and challenges ahead remain,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told the video conference of OPEC+ ministers.

      Benchmark Brent crude climbed to a three-month high on Friday above $42 a barrel, after diving below $20 in April. Prices still remain a third lower than at the end of 2019.

      WATCH | Canadian oil producers don’t see relief after OPEC deal to cut output:

      Richard Masson, chair of World Petroleum Council-Canada, says Ottawa needs to move soon if it plans to help producers, as companies face ‘really tough decisions.’ 0:55

      “Prices can be expected to be strong from Monday, keeping their $40 US plus levels,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen from Rystad Energy.

      Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, and Russia have to perform a balancing act of pushing up oil prices to meet their budget needs while not driving them much above $50 US a barrel to avoid encouraging a resurgence of rival U.S. shale production.

      1 billion barrels of excess oil inventories

      The April deal was agreed under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump, who wants to avoid U.S. oil industry bankruptcies.

      Trump, who previously threatened to pull U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia if Riyadh did not act, spoke to the Russian and Saudi leaders before Saturday’s talks, saying he was happy with the price recovery.

      While oil prices have partially recovered, they are still well below the costs of most U.S. shale producers. Shutdowns, layoffs and cost cutting continue across the United States.

      As global lockdown restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus are being eased, oil demand is expected to exceed supply sometime in July but OPEC has yet to clear 1 billion barrels of excess oil inventories accumulated since March.

      Tonhaugen said Saturday’s decisions would help OPEC reduce inventories at a rate of 3 million to 4 million bpd over July-August.

      Workers are seen in Aramco’s oil separator at processing facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, in September 2019. (Amr Nabil/The Associated Press)

      “The quicker stocks fall, the higher prices will get. And that is crucial for many OPEC+ economies, whose fiscal budgets count on oil sales,” he said.

      Nigeria’s petroleum ministry said Abuja backed the idea of compensating for its excessive output in May and June.

      Iraq, with one of the worst compliance rates in May, agreed to extra cuts although it was not clear how Baghdad would reach agreement with oil majors on curbing Iraqi output.

      Workers are seen in the Nihran Bin Omar field north of Basra, Iraq, in January 2017. (Nabil al-Jurani/The Associated Press)

      Iraq produced 520,000 bpd above its quota in May, while overproduction by Nigeria was 120,000 bpd, Angola’s was 130,000 bpd, Kazakhstan’s was 180,000 bpd and Russia’s was 100,000 bpd, according to OPEC+ data.

      OPEC+’s joint ministerial monitoring committee, known as the JMMC, would now meet every month until December to review the market, compliance and recommend levels of cuts.

      The next JMMC meeting is scheduled for June 18, while the next full OPEC and OPEC+ meeting will take place on Nov. 30-Dec. 1.

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      OPEC+ extends oil cuts in deal that hinges on end of cheating – BNNBloomberg.ca

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      OPEC+ agreed to a one-month extension of its record output cuts and adopted a stricter approach to ensuring members don’t break their production pledges.

      The deal will underpin the oil market recovery, easing the financial pain felt by resource-dependent emerging economies, shale explorers in Texas, and blue-chip companies like Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

      It’s a victory for Saudi Arabia and Russia, who put a destructive price war behind them to successfully cajole Iraq, Nigeria and other laggards to fulfill their promises to cut production. The two leaders of OPEC+ showed that they intend to keep a close watch on the oil market, meeting every month to assess the balance between supply and demand amid an uncertain economic recovery from the global pandemic.

      “Our collective efforts have borne fruit, and despite many uncertainties, there are encouraging signs that we are over the worst,” said Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. “Demand is returning as big oil-consuming economies emerge from pandemic lockdown,” he added.

      After a video conference lasting several hours on Saturday, delegates said all nations had signed off on a new deal for a production cut of 9.6 million barrels a day next month. That’s 100,000 barrels a day lower than the reduction in June because Mexico will end its supply constraints, but a tighter limit than the 7.7 million barrels a day set for July in the group’s previous agreement.

      In addition, the communique states that any member that doesn’t implement 100 per cent of its production cuts in May and June will make extra reductions from July to September to compensate for their failings.

      Those promises are a particular vindication for the Saudi minister, who has consistently pushed fellow members to stop cheating on their quotas since his appointment last year.

      But they could also add an element of risk. In theory, the entirety of the 23-nation production agreement, which runs until April 2022, is now contingent on every member making 100 per cent of their pledged cuts, according to the communique. That’s something rarely achieved in the three-and-a-half years that OPEC+ has existed, or indeed the decades-long history of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries itself.

      Daunting Challenge

      Oil has just posted a sixth weekly gain in London, more than doubling to US$42.30 a barrel since April with traders anticipating tighter supplies as demand recovers from lockdown. U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday hailed the cuts from OPEC and its allies for saving America’s energy industry, and U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette welcomed the deal on Saturday.

      The oil market “is still in a fragile state and needs support,” Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in opening remarks at the virtual meeting. “That is why today more than ever it is important to adhere to 100 per cent compliance.”

      The group hopes to build on its success by pushing the market into a supply deficit next month, using a price structure called backwardation to start to chip away at the billion barrels of oil stockpiles that built up during the pandemic.

      There was no discussion in the meeting about the future of the additional 1.2 million barrels a day of voluntary output cuts being implemented by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies in June, delegates said.

      The cartel will meet again in the second half of June for another review of the oil market. Talks are scheduled on June 18 for the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, which could recommend a further extension if it’s deemed necessary, pushing the deep production cuts into August, a delegate said. That panel will meet every month until December, according to the communique.

      The next full ministerial OPEC+ meeting has been scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, delegates said, although the communique notes that a conference could be held whenever it is required.

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      Cutting production is always painful for oil-dependent states. Iraq in particular needs every penny because it’s still rebuilding its economy following decades of war, sanctions and Islamist insurgency.

      The country made less than half of its assigned cutbacks last month, so compensating fully would require it to slash production by a further 24 per cent to about 3.28 million barrels a day, according to Bloomberg calculations. Accepting such terms could risk a backlash from Iraqi parliamentarians and rival political parties for bowing to foreign pressure.

      The traditional shirkers in OPEC+ have promised many times before to do better. Some analysts were skeptical that this occasion will be any different.

      “Everyone saves face with this agreement,” Jan Stuart, global energy economist at Cornerstone Macro LLC, said on Friday after a tentative deal was in place. “But it begs the question: What is the enforcement mechanism? I’m very curious to see how the organization is going to elicit greater compliance from the cheaters.”

      There’s also a risk that future OPEC+ curbs could be undermined by a return of Libyan oil. The civil war there halted more than one million barrels a day of production, helping OPEC+ rebalance the market, but a cease fire now opens the door for a gradual recovery of supply.

      For now at least, members of OPEC+ can enjoy the price gains resulting from their deal.

      “The oil market is on its way to recovery,” said Ann-Louise Hittle, oil analyst at consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. “Supply has shifted dramatically already”

      –With assistance from Julian Lee and Khalid Al-Ansary.

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