Update: Buffett Cuts Munich Re Shareholding, Responds to Reinsurance Slump

By and | September 29, 2015

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has cut its stake in Munich Re after lamenting a slump in the reinsurance business.

Berkshire’s holding was lowered to 9.7 percent from about 12 percent, Munich Re said in a statement Tuesday, citing a notification from Buffett’s Omaha, Nebraska-based company.

Berkshire, which also sells reinsurance, invested from 2008 to 2010 in competitors Munich Re and Swiss Re. The shares of the European companies jumped through 2014, though the rally stalled this year. Reinsurers have faced increased competition from Wall Street investors who are seeking weather-related bets that are uncorrelated with financial markets.

“It’s a business whose prospects have turned for the worse and there’s not much we can do about it,” Buffett told shareholders at his company’s annual meeting in May.

Munich Re extended losses and fell 1.4 percent to 164.90 euros as of 4:23 p.m. in Frankfurt and is little changed since Dec. 31. Berkshire slipped 0.3 percent in New York and is down about 15 percent this year.

The reinsurer said in 2010 that Buffett’s firm had accumulated a stake of more than 10 percent, a threshold at which investors have to disclose their holdings.

“We are pleased that Warren Buffett has been a significant shareholder for many years,” Munich Re Chief Financial Officer Joerg Schneider said in Tuesday’s statement. “In the 135-year history of our business, we have often seen changes to our shareholder structure.”

Munich Re has a market value of about 27.5 billion euros ($30.9 billion) and pays a dividend of more than 4 percent. The company said that most of its shareholders are from outside of Germany.

“The dividend return over time has been very attractive,” said Peter Casanova, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux in Zurich.

Reinsurers provide backup coverage to primary carriers. Buffett didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment that was sent to an assistant.

–With assistance from Carolynn Look in Frankfurt.

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