OMAHA, Neb. — Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway reported a steep drop in earnings Saturday as the paper value of its investments plummeted and it pared its Apple holdings. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of shareholders looked forward to hearing from Buffett directly, buoyed by a jump in performance of the many companies Berkshire operates directly.

Berkshire reported a $12.7 billion profit, or $8.825 per Class A share, in first the quarter, down 64% from $35.5 billion, or $24,377 per A share a year ago.

Buffett encourages investors to pay more attention to the conglomerate’s operating earnings that exclude the investment figures. Operating earnings jumped 39% to $11.222 billion, or $7,796.47 per Class A share, led by insurance companies’ strong performance.

By that measure, Berkshire beat expectations of the three analysts surveyed by FactSet Research, who had predicted operating earnings of $6,701.87 per Class A share.

As part of Buffett’s stock sales, he trimmed about 13% of Berkshire’s massive Apple stake. Holdings in the iPhone maker are still Berkshire’s biggest stake, making up $135.4 billion of the company’s $364 billion portfolio. Buffett said he expects Apple to remain the biggest investment for years, even when his successor Greg Abel eventually takes over.

As for Berkshire’s core insurance businesses, the conglomerate reported a $2.6 billion underwriting profit at its insurers, up from $911 million a year ago.

BNSF railroad’s profits dropped 8% to $1.143 billion, but most of Bershire’s many other companies delivered solid results, including a 72% jump in operating profit at the utility unit that added $717 million to earnings.

Cash on hand rose to a record $188.993 billion in the quarter.

“We’d love to spend it but we won’t spend it unless we’re doing something with very little risk that will make us a lot of money,” Buffett said.

Tens of thousands filled the arena eager to vacuum up tidbits of wisdom from Buffett, who famously dubbed the meeting ‘Woodstock for Capitalists.’

But a key ingredient is missing this year: It’s the first meeting since Vice Chairman Charlie Munger died.

The meeting opened with a video tribute highlighting some of his best known quotes, including classic lines like “If people weren’t so often wrong, we wouldn’t be so rich.” The video also featured classic skits the investors made with Hollywood stars over the years, including a “Desperate Housewives” spoof where one of the women introduced Munger as her boyfriend and another in which actress Jaimie Lee Curtis swooned over him.

As the video ended, the arena erupted in a prolonged standing ovation honoring Munger, whom Buffett called “the architect of Berkshire Hathaway.”

Buffett said Munger remained curious about the world up until the end of his life at 99, attending dinner parties, meetings and regular Zoom calls.

“Like his hero Ben Franklin, Charlie wanted to understand everything,” Buffett said.

For decades, Munger and Buffett functioned as a classic comedy duo, with Buffett offering lengthy setups to Munger’s witty one-liners. He once referred to unproven internet companies as “turds.”

Together, the pair transformed Berkshire from a floundering textile mill into a massive conglomerate made up of a variety of interests, from insurance companies such as Geico to BNSF railroad to several major utilities and an assortment of other companies.

Munger often summed up the key Berkshire’s success as “trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.” He and Buffett also were known for sticking to businesses they understood well.

“Warren always did at least 80% of the talking. But Charlie was a great foil,” said Stansberry Research analyst Whitney Tilson, who was looking forward to his 27th consecutive meeting.

Munger’s absence, however, created space for shareholders to get to know better the two executives who directly oversee Berkshire’s companies: Ajit Jain, who manages the insurance units, and Abel, who handles everything else and has been named Buffett’s successor. Abel and Jain shared the main stage with Buffett for the first time this year.

The first time Buffett kicked a question to Abel, he mistakenly said “Charlie?” Abel shrugged off the mistake and dove into the challenges utilities face from the increased risk of wildfires and some regulators’ reluctance to let them collect a reasonable profit.

Morningstar analyst Greggory Warren said he hopes Abel will speak up more this year and let shareholders see some of the brilliance Berkshire executives talk about.

“Greg’s a rock star,” said Chris Bloomstran, president of Semper Augustus Investments Group. “The bench is deep. He won’t have the same humor at the meeting. But I think we all come here to get a reminder every year to be rational.”

As always, Buffett addressed a variety of topics Saturday, though he never talks politics or reveals what he is buying. The stock he has been buying over the past year will remain a secret until he’s required to disclose it in filings.

He described a recent uneasy experience with artificial intelligence, saying he saw a fake image of himself delivering a message in his voice about something he said he would never say. He predicted the technology will be a boon for scammers, and he’s not sure if it will do more good than harm. The fake video was so convincing Buffett said he might have sent money to himself overseas.

“It has enormous potential for good and enormous potential for harm and I just don’t know how that plays out,” he said.

On climate change, Jain said it’s creating larger losses for insurance companies and driving up prices. It’s hard to know if prices are increasing enough to handle the risk, but at least insurers have the opportunity to recalibrate their premiums each year, Jain said.

“We get a lot of letters from people concerned about climate change — and I don’t think they’re wrong,” Buffett said. “But they don’t understand the insurance business.”

Overall, Buffett said Berkshire’s system of having all the noninsurance companies report to Abel and the insurers report to Jain is working well. The 93-year-old says he hardly gets any calls from managers any more because they get more guidance from Abel and Jain.

“This place would work extremely well the next day if something happened to me,” Buffett said. ___

For more AP coverage of Warren Buffett look here: https://apnews.com/hub/warren-buffett. For Berkshire Hathaway news, see here: https://apnews.com/hub/berkshire-hathaway-inc. Follow Josh Funk online at https://www.twitter.com/funkwrite and https://www.linkedin.com/in/funkwrite.





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