3 May 2020

Billionaire Warren Buffett sells all his US airline shares

5:33 pm on 3 May 2020

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett says his company Berkshire Hathaway has sold all of its shares in the four largest US airlines.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 4, 2019, Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, speaks to the press as he arrives at the 2019 annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.

Warren Buffett began investing in the airline industry four years ago, and now says it was a mistake. Photo: AFP

Speaking at the annual shareholders' meeting, Buffett said "the world has changed" because of the coronavirus.

He then said he had been wrong to invest in the airline industry.

Buffett's comments came just hours after Berkshire Hathaway announced a record $US50 billion ($NZ82.4b) net first quarter loss, Reuters news agency reports.

The conglomerate had an 11 percent stake in Delta Air Lines, 10 percent of American Airlines, 10 percent of Southwest Airlines, and 9 percent of United Airlines, according to its annual report and company filings.

The firm began investing in the four airlines in 2016, after avoiding the aviation industry for years.

VICTORVILLE, CA - MARCH 24: Delta Air Lines jets are parked in growing numbers at Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA) on March 24, 2020 in Victorville, California.

Delta Air Lines planes parked up in a logistics airport in southern California. Photo: AFP

Buffett says nothing can stop the US

Buffett told the meeting, which was held virtually: "We made that decision in terms of the airline business. We took money out of the business basically even at a substantial loss.

"We will not fund a company ... where we think that it is going to chew up money in the future."

The US travel industry has almost collapsed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with airlines cutting hundreds of thousands of flights and taking thousands of planes out of service.

Buffett said he had been considering investing in additional airlines before the pandemic hit.

"It is a blow to have, essentially, your demand dry up," he said. "It is basically that we shut off air travel in this country."

Illustrating his remarks with dozens of plain black-and-white slides, Buffett called dealing with the pandemic "quite an experiment" that had an "extraordinarily wide" range of possible economic outcomes.

But he said Americans have persevered and prospered through such crises as the Civil War in the 1860s, the influenza pandemic a century ago and the Great Depression. American "magic" prevailed before and would do again, he said.

"Nothing can stop America when you get right down to it," Buffett said. "I will bet on America the rest of my life."

In a statement, Delta said it was aware of the sale and has "tremendous respect for Mr Buffett and the Berkshire team".

The airline added that it remains "confident" in its strengths.

- BBC / Reuters

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs