United Airlines Just Dragged Up to $90 Million Off of Warren Buffett’s Stock Value
As the airline company struggled to respond to the incident, which occurred after the man allegedly resisted an order to get off the overbooked flight, shares of United Continental Holdings (UAL) fell as much as 4%, knocking off more than $1 billion in market value.
The selloff was also costly for United’s biggest shareholder, Warren Buffett. The legendary investor’s company, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A), owns more than 9% of United, a stake now worth about $2 billion, after making an unusually large bet on airline stocks in recent quarters.
At the stock’s lowest point Tuesday, Buffett’s holding in United was down more than $90 million for that day alone. Buffett recovered some of those losses, however, when United shares bounced back in the afternoon, as stocks across the airline industry rallied on encouraging signs of travel demand. By market close, United stock was down slightly more than 1%. Buffett’s total hit from the controversy: $24 million.
Buffett did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment on the United Airlines scandal. But overall, the Oracle of Omaha’s portfolio had a pretty good day. American Airlines (AAL) stock, which Buffett holds even more of than United, rose almost 4%, making the investor’s stake worth $73 million more than it was yesterday (and more than canceling out his United losses).
On top of that, Buffett made another $19 million on Delta Air Lines (DAL), his largest airline holding, whose stock gained nearly 1% for the day. And his shares in Southwest Airlines (LUV), which was up 1.6%, tacked on another $36 million.
All in all, Buffett’s net profit on airline stocks Tuesday, by our calculations: $104 million, illustrating once again the investor’s talent for making money even when the headlines are grim.
In fact, the drop in United’s stock price may have created what Buffett considers an ideal opportunity to buy more shares. Buffett, a value investor who prefers to buy stocks when they trade at discounts, has famously advised investors to “be greedy when others are fearful”—or in other words, take advantage of market selloffs to load up on stocks at cheaper prices. Buffett may never say whether he was one of the buyers of United Airlines Tuesday afternoon, but investors shouldn’t be surprised if Berkshire Hathaway reveals a larger stake in the company in its next securities disclosure.
Meanwhile, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz was also trying to reverse some of the damage caused by the incident. After criticism about the tone of the company’s first apology, Munoz released a second apology late in the day Tuesday, saying, “I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard.”