Berkshire Hathaway Earnings, Price and Book Value in Total Disconnect

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Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) reported earnings on Friday. This is an earnings report which you would deem a good report from some sources and a bad report from other sources. Warren Buffett himself has always told investors to steer clear of any single quarterly earnings report in favor of book value growth. After all, Team Buffett has many moving parts and there are so many securities and operations that gains or losses in any quarter can throw off comparisons. The problem with this report is that book value growth is in a total disconnect with the growth of the stock price.

The conglomerate reported that third quarter operating earnings grew to $3.662 billion from $3.399 billion. That is a gain of 7.7%. Net earnings after items included securities sales and rose by a sharp 28.9% to $5.053 billion.

Operating earnings per share rose by 8.3% from a year ago to $2,228 per Class A share. The net earnings per share including gains rose by 29.5% to $3,074 per Class A share. We would point out that Mr. Buffett seems to have purchased at least some stock in the buyback plan because the average Class A shares outstanding were 1,643,779 at the end of the third quarter versus 1,652,184 a year ago.

A source of weakness was insurance underwriting, with earnings from operations down to $170 million from $392 million a year ago. Insurance investment income rose to $861 million from $733 million a year ago. The non-insurance businesses accounted for $2.783 billion of the total, up from $2.474 billion a year ago.

If you go back to the book value, that is doing well in 2013. Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder equity has increased $20.7 billion and the Class A book value per share rose by 11.0% to $126,766 as of September 30, 2013.

We would point out that the closing price of $173,122.50 for its Class A shares is up 29.1% versus the $134,060 closing price of 2012. The September 30 closing price of $170,410 was up 27.1% from the end of 2012.

In short, the book value per share that Warren Buffett tells you to watch rather than any earnings report rose at 11% versus almost 30% gains in the stock. How can we not call that a serious disconnect, even if the gains of both are impressive?

Just to show how convoluted these earnings interpretations are, here is a snapshot of the headlines from Yahoo! Finance:

buffett headlines
Source: Yahoo! Finance