Warren Buffett has gone from a stock-buy-back sceptic to one of the world’s biggest repurchasers as his own firm becomes his favourite investment in the pandemic. The famed investor’s Berkshire Hathaway spent the third quarter buying back about US$9 billion of its own stock, more than it had repurchased in any full year in its history. The buying spree takes the total repurchases in the first nine months of 2020 to US$16 billion, and the most recent pace would be the biggest of any US company except Apple , which happens to be Buffett’s largest investment. Buffett , 90, has been struggling for years to find attractive deals that would deploy his cash pile into higher-returning assets to help supercharge the growth of his conglomerate. In recent years, he has backed off his long-held aversion to share buy-backs. Now, repurchases led his capital-deployment manoeuvres in the quarter, alongside a roughly US$6 billion investment in Japanese trading houses, a bet on Snowflake and a deal for natural gas assets. “You start to talk about a pretty significant amount of cash that’s been put to work,” Jim Shanahan, an analyst at Edward Jones, said in a phone interview. Big multibillion investments “are difficult to come by and in the absence of that, they’re finding ways to put cash to work, I think in a meaningful amount.” The buy-backs allowed Buffett to chip away at Berkshire ’s cash pile in the third quarter, with that war chest dropping slightly to US$145.7 billion, the company said on Saturday. The funds, which still give him plenty of capital to deploy into acquisitions, stock purchases or buy-backs, have recently been accumulating faster than Buffett can put them to work in higher-returning assets. The heightened buy-backs could indicate more optimism in the conglomerate’s prospects, just months after Buffett told Berkshire shareholders at the annual meeting in May that repurchasing shares was not more compelling than when the stock was much higher before the pandemic. Berkshire stock climbed 20 per cent in the third quarter, surpassing the 8.5 per cent gain in the S&P 500 Index during the same period. The company accelerated its repurchases even as the shares climbed through the quarter. Still, Berkshire stock is overall cheaper than it was at the end of last year, with Class A shares down 7.6 per cent through Friday’s close. The buy-backs likely continued into October. Saturday’s filing shows that Berkshire’s share count decreased even through October 26, indicating Berkshire spent at least US$2.3 billion repurchasing stock during those weeks. “The forceful share buy-backs suggest that at least one lever that can be pulled more forcefully as the price lingers is the one that he is doing,” Thomas Russo, who oversees more than US$9 billion including Berkshire shares at Gardner Russo & Gardner, said in a phone interview. “I’m delighted to see that kind of commitment.” The conglomerate’s businesses have bounced back slightly from the depths of the slump in the second quarter. Profit at the railway, while still down from a year earlier, was higher than the three months ended June 30, and Berkshire’s utilities posted its highest quarterly profit in more than a decade. Still, operating profit dropped 32 per cent, hurt by the insurance unit’s first underwriting loss since the end of 2019. Buffett’s businesses have been battered by the pandemic this year. Aerospace parts-maker Precision Castparts, which was hit by a US$10 billion charge in the second quarter, reported an 80 per cent drop in pre-tax earnings in the three months that ended September 30. Retailers such as See’s Candies and Oriental Trading have experienced “significant declines” in earnings this year. Berkshire’s board announced a policy change in July 2018 that allowed Buffett and his business partner, Charles Munger, to buy back stock when the price is below whatever they consider Berkshire’s intrinsic value. Previously, they could not make repurchases if the price was more than 20 per cent above current book value. “This concept of reallocating capital to shareholders was just not necessarily a tenet of Berkshire’s operating policies,” CFRA Research analyst Cathy Seifert said in a phone interview. “In this environment, it’s getting harder and harder for them to justify holding on to billions and billions of dollars in Treasury securities.” Buffett’s appetite for equities was not limited to his own shares. After selling the most stocks on a net basis in more than a decade during the second quarter, Berkshire reversed course in the following months, purchasing US$4.79 billion of stocks on a net basis during the third quarter. The company’s investments delivered almost US$25 billion in investment gains amid the market rally, helping net income almost double despite the drop in operating profit.