Warren Buffett on Saturday lavished praise on his reinsurance chief Ajit Jain, saying the man many investors hope will succeed him was devoted to Berkshire Hathaway and his work.
Jain has long been seen as one of the few Berkshire executives who might replace the Oracle of Omaha when he no longer leads the conglomerate.
“I can’t think of any decision Ajit Jain has ever made that I could make better,” Buffett told tens of thousands of shareholders in Omaha for Berkshire’s annual meeting. “He thinks about Berkshire first.”
Buffett has never been reserved in his praise for Jain, but shareholders are paying closer attention now that Sokol, once seen as Buffett’s heir apparent, is out of the picture.
The ‘Oracle of Omaha’ said he was wrong not to press Sokol about purchases of Lubrizol Corp stock while his former top lieutenant was pitching the chemicals company as a possible takeover target for Berkshire Hathaway. He said Sokol had violated Berkshire insider trading rules, and other rules he orders managers to follow, by failing to disclose his January purchase of Lubrizol shares, less than four weeks after starting talks with Citi bankers about the company.
Meanwhile, elaborating on the company’s results, Buffett said Berkshire will report a significantly lower first-quarter profit, as one of the worst quarters ever for global catastrophes weighed on the company’s insurance businesses. Profit is expected to be about $1.5 billion, down from $3.63 billion a year earlier.
He also projected that for the first time in nine years, Berkshire would likely have a full-year loss from insurance underwriting. Insurance comprises close to half of Berkshire’s operations.
Buffett said the company lost $821 million from insurance underwriting in the first quarter, and had an estimated $1.7 billion of pretax losses from catastrophes.
He also said that the company is looking at two large acquisitions on the scale of its $9 billion cash purchase of chemical company Lubrizol Corp.