Buffett Watch: Why Earnings Fell at Berkshire Hathaway, but Book Value Rises in 2015

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) has issued its second-quarter earnings release for 2015. The conglomerate under Warren Buffett has earnings that are almost always very hard to analyze on apples-to-apples basis. There are also very few analysts that will cover it. The reason for difficult comparisons and a lack of coverage is far from a lack of interest — there are just too many moving parts. And Team Buffett has warned on numerous occasions that it is the quarterly book value that should matter the most.

Berkshire Hathaway pointed out that, since the beginning of the year, Berkshire’s shareholder equity has increased $5.9 billion and its book value per Class A equivalent share was up by 2.4% to $149,735 per share. The company’s insurance float at June 30, 2015 was $85.1 billion. For a comparison to the first quarter book value, Berkshire Hathaway’s book value per Class A equivalent share had increased by 0.5% since the end of 2014 to $146,963 as of March 31, 2015.

Approximately 58% of the aggregate fair value of equity investments was still concentrated in just four public companies. That is down from 59% at the end of 2014, and the equity values were listed as follows:

American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP) was valued at $11.8 billion, down from $14.1 billion American Express value at the end of 2014, likely due to AmEx performance being poor.

Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) was valued at $27.6 billion, above the $26.5 billion value for Wells Fargo at the end of 2014.

International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) was valued at $12.9 billion, up from the $12.3 billion at the end of 2014, but likely due to adding more IBM shares.

Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) was valued at $15.7 billion, down marginally from the $16.9 billion at the end of 2014.

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The company’s filing showed for its “insurance and other” a June 30 cash balance of $60.394 billion, up from $57.974 billion a year ago. Also shown was that the value of Berkshire Hathaway’s investments in equity securities was $110.776 billion, down from $115.529 billion a year earlier.

Operating earnings came to $3.89 billion in the second quarter, down from $4.33 billion a year ago. Gains from investments fell to $236 million, from $1.96 billion a year ago. Buffett’s crew also lost a sum of $113 million from derivatives in the second quarter, down from a gain of $101 million a year earlier. The total combined revenues grew to $51.368 billion in the second quarter, versus $49.762 billion in the second quarter of 2014.

If you add up the investment income and the operating income from the conglomerate structure, Berkshire Hathaway made $4.01 billion in net earnings, down from $6.395 billion a year earlier.

This generated operating earnings Class A common share of $2,367, versus $2,634 per share a year ago. After the investments and derivatives, the net income per Class A common share was $2,442 (versus $3,889 a year ago).

Berkshire saw income go negative in the insurance underwriting to -$38 million, versus a gain of $411 million last year. The insurance-investment income fell to $977 million from $1.131 billion. And the non-insurance businesses earnings rose to $3.144 billion from $2.835 billion.

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After closing at $215,462.77 for the A shares, Berkshire Hathaway has a range of $193,570.00 to $229,374.00 over the past 52-weeks.

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