10 May 2009

Buffett investment firm loses $US1.5 billion

2:08 pm on 10 May 2009

Billionaire Warren Buffett's investment firm Berkshire Hathaway said on Friday it lost $US1.5 billion in the first quarter amid market turmoil as the value of its assets fell by $US6.1 billion.

The investment company controlled by Mr Buffett, the world's second richest person, took a hit from its insurance holdings and a loss as it sold a big stake in oil giant ConocoPhillips.

Berkshire said it set aside a reserve of $US3.7 billion for potential losses from insurance firms that offer credit default swaps, which insure against a default of bonds or other investments.

The company has big stakes in General Re, a reinsurance firm, as well as US insurer GEICO. It also has stakes in the energy sector and Washington Post newspaper.

Last month, ratings agency Moody's Investors Service downgraded the "AAA" rating the billionaire investor's Berkshire Hathaway, citing damage from falling stocks on its insurance business.

The firm posted a net profit of $US4.99 billion for 2008, despite a deepening US recession and a global economic and financial crisis.

Its assets, however, have lost nearly 10% of their value, a performance unusually weak for Buffett, known as the "Oracle of Omaha" for his astute investment decisions.