Berkshire Hathaway sells part of Delta, Southwest airline stakes

FILE PHOTO: Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett seen at the annual Berkshire shareholder shopping day in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Scott Morgan/File Photo

(Reuters) - Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc BRKa.N said on Friday it sold about 18% of its stake in Delta Air Lines Inc DAL.N and 4% of its holdings in Southwest Airlines Co LUV.N this week, as the coronavirus pandemic drives the airline industry into perhaps its biggest crisis ever.

According to regulatory filings, Berkshire sold nearly 13 million Delta shares for about $314 million and roughly 2.3 million Southwest shares for about $74 million.

The sales were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, the filings show. Berkshire previously owned about 11.1% of Delta stock and 10.4% of Southwest stock, according to Refinitiv data. No reasons for the sales were given.

Berkshire did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to Buffett’s assistant.

The Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate is among the biggest shareholders of the four largest U.S. carriers - Delta, Southwest, American Airlines Group Inc AAL.O and United Airlines Holdings Inc UAL.O.

Buffett has said three of the airline stakes are overseen by him, while one of his portfolio managers, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, oversees the fourth.

Berkshire’s sales were disclosed after major U.S. airlines applied on Friday for payroll grants from the U.S. Treasury to help keep workers employed.

The pandemic has punished the industry, as passengers stay home and carriers worldwide slash their schedules and ground planes. Delta projected on Friday that its second-quarter revenue would fall 90%.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Rachit Vats in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni and Leslie Adler