U.S. Markets closed

Berkshire’s Slice of U.S. Economy Points to Pockets of Weakness

Katherine Chiglinsky

(Bloomberg) -- Warren Buffett’s conglomerate touches so many parts of U.S. business with its scores of companies that it’s sometimes used as a measure of the economy. Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s latest results show some evidence of the American consumer pulling back.

Soft consumer demand hit units from Berkshire’s group of home furnishing businesses to its BNSF Railway Co., according to a regulatory filing Saturday. The company’s revenue from consumer products -- which includes makers of jewelry, underwear and motor homes -- dropped 8.6% in the quarter. Battery company Duracell saw customers delay orders until the third quarter.

As the U.S. expansion becomes the longest on record, economists are looking to consumers to keep it going amid trade tensions and cooling manufacturing growth. Buffett, 88, has spent over five decades pushing Berkshire into an array of industries -- he listed 75 operating companies in his annual report and some of those contain dozens of smaller businesses. His consumer products companies employ 55,000 people with thousands more in service businesses such as Dairy Queen and a real-estate agency.

Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, which has over 80 auto dealerships, reported lower sales of new cars, while sales of pre-owned vehicles climbed.

Not all of Berkshire’s businesses reflected a weakened consumer. See’s Candies reported revenue gains in the first half, according to Saturday’s filing. And the highest-end consumers are still spending: private-plane rental company NetJets saw a jump in leases and flight hours.

To contact the reporter on this story: Katherine Chiglinsky in New York at kchiglinsky@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael J. Moore at mmoore55@bloomberg.net, James Ludden

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.