Coronavirus: Billionaire investor Warren Buffett sells all his stakes in US airlines

May 03, 2020

Warren Buffett's company Berkshire Hathaway has sold all its stakes in the four largest US airlines because of the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking at the company's annual meeting, the business tycoon said "the world has changed" for the aviation industry due to the global pandemic.

He also revealed he made the wrong decision in investing billions of dollars in the aviation industry.

Berkshire Hathaway, a multinational conglomerate based in Nebraska, had held sizeable positions in the airlines.

According to the company's filings, it had an 11% stake in Delta Air Lines, 10% of American Airlines Co, 10% of Southwest Airlines Co and 9% of United Airlines at the end of 2019.

The company was also one of the largest individual holders in the four airlines and in 2016 disclosed it had begun investing in the four carriers after avoiding the aviation sector for years.

Buffett said: "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 coronavirus pandemic has led to airline stocks becoming deeply impacted by the near collapse of US travel demand as countries across the world remain in lockdown.

US airlines have cut hundreds of thousands of flights and parked their planes as the demand for US travel falls by around 95%.

There is currently no clear timetable for when travel will return to pre-crisis levels.

Last month, Berkshire Hathaway disclosed it had sold about 18% of its Delta stake and 4% of its Southwest shares.

Buffett said Berkshire had made the mistake of investing around $7bn (£5.5bn) or $8bn (£6.3bn) amassing stakes in the four airlines including American Airlines Group Inc.

He said: "We did not take out anything like $7bn or $8bn and that was my mistake.

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"I am the one who made the decision."

The billionaire investor said he had previously considered investing in additional airlines.

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

Southwest, American and United declined to comment.

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

During Saturday's press conference, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the government wanted to support the aviation sector "in any way we can".

He said the industry was "grappling with what the longer term demand for its services might be in an age in which social distancing will be important and in which business travel, for example, might be different".

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