Does 20% Operating Income Gain at Berkshire Hathaway Trump 47% Book Value Premium?

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Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) has released its first quarter earnings for 2015 ahead of this weekend’s annual shareholder meeting. The company’s net earnings per share attributable to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders was $3,143 per share in the first quarter of 2015 — up from $2,862 per share for the first quarter of 2014. Berkshire’s revenue rose to $48.644 billion in the first quarter, up from $45.453 billion a year ago. The total costs and expenses rose to $40.997 billion, from $38.855 billion a year ago.

Warren Buffett and team showed a net income reading of $5.233 billion, up from $4.773 billion a year ago. Operating earnings was shown as $4.244 billion versus $3.533 billion a year ago – hence the gain of 20% as noted in the title.

As a reminder, Warren Buffett has always told shareholders that income can be very skewed at any point, so book value is the way to evaluate the company. Friday’s earnings report showed that the book value had increased by 0.5% since year-end 2014 to $146,963 per Class A equivalent share — versus a most recent closing price of $215,800 as of Friday. That means that Berkshire Hathaway shares are now worth almost 47% higher than the book value as of current share pricing. Just keep in mind that book values are often far lower than what a breakup value might translate to if you really went for a current value of the company on an asset by asset basis.

The company’s insurance float (the net liabilities we assume under insurance contracts) at March 31, 2015 was approximately $83.5 billion.

The total investment pool was listed as $337.973 billion, up from $333.869 billion a year ago. The full blow-by-blow, including cash, was as follows (this year first):

  • Cash and equivalents $58.198 billion, up from $57.974 billion;
  • Equity investments were $113.341 billion, down slightly from $115.529 billion;
  • Fixed Income was almost unchanged at $27.366 billion, versus $27.397 billion;
  • “Other” Investments was $15.208 billion down from $16.346 billion;
  • and Heinz Investment was listed as $11.493 billion versus $11.660 billion.

Berkshire Hathaway also said that operating earnings rose in insurance underwriting and in insurance investment income. The operating income also rose to $1.466 billion in rail, utilities, and energy – from $1.176 billion a year ago. Other businesses and items also rose in operating income.

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Unfortunately, Berkshire Hathaway makes no real comments in its earnings reports. The bulk of the commentary is going to come from the annual shareholders meeting this weekend. Stay tuned.

The A-shares closed at $215,800 on Friday, and the 52-week range is $185,005 to 229,374.