Berkshire sells entire stakes in U.S. airlines: Buffett

(Reuters) – Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) has sold its entire stakes in the four largest U.S. airlines, Chairman Warren Buffett said Saturday at the company’s annual meeting.

The conglomerate held sizeable positions in the airlines, including an 11% stake in Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), 10% of American Airlines Co (AAL.O), around 10% of Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) and 9% of United Airlines (UAL.O) at the end of 2019, according to its annual report and company filings.

The conglomerate was one of the largest individual holders in the four airlines.

Airline stocks have been hard hit by the near collapse U.S. travel demand amid the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. airlines are cutting hundreds of thousands of flights, parking thousands of planes as U.S. travel demand has fallen by about 95% and there is no clear timetable for passengers to return to flights at pre-crisis levels.

Buffett said the airline industry’s outlook has changed dramatically in just a few months.

“We made that decision in terms of the airline business. We took money out of the business basically even at a substantial loss,” Buffett said. “We will not fund a company that — where we think that it is going to chew up money in the future.”

Buffett said Berkshire had invested around $7 billion or $8 billion amassing stakes in the four airlines including American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O).

“We did not take out anything like $7 or $8 billion and that was my mistake,” Buffett said at the company’s annual meeting which was livestreamed. “I am the one who made the decision.”

Southwest did not immediately comment on the sale, while the other three airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It is a blow to have essentially your demand dry up…. It is basically that we shut off air travel in this country,” Buffett added.

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