Warren Buffett eyeing casinos, other businesses hit by coronavirus to offer financial lifelines

Warren Buffett is eyeing some of the businesses suffering the most from the novel coronavirus, including casinos, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The billionaire investor and Berkshire Hathaway boss is "circling the hardest-hit companies in the travel, lodging, and entertainment sectors, eager to offer financial lifelines should they be needed," the newspaper said, citing people familiar with the matter.

Casinos, along with airlines, hotels, cinemas and other businesses in the travel and leisure space are running short of cash as people stay at home to slow the pandemic's spread and authorities shut down tourism hot spots such as Las Vegas Strip. Buffett may willing to offer a helping hand, at a price.

Armed with Berkshire's $128 billion cash pile, Buffett has been hunting for an "elephant-sized acquisition" for a few years now. Following the worst quarter for US equities since the 2008 financial crisis, opportunities to find one at an appealing valuation for the billionaire investor.

Buffett could also deploy cash as a loan. For example, he struck a $576 million financing deal with Lee Enterprises as part of the sale of Berkshire's newspapers to the publisher in January.

The Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO has his pick of distressed companies. Casino groups such as Caesars Entertainment, hotel chains such as Marriott and Hilton, cinema chains including Cinemark and AMC Theatres, and theme-park operators such as Six Flags and SeaWorld could fit the bill.

He could also help the airlines, raising his stakes in American, United, Delta, or Southwest on the cheap. Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean might also welcome Buffett's cash, as the cruise lines' offshore registrations may mean they're ineligible for a US government bailout.