How Warren Buffett Grew Income, Book Value, Stocks and Revenues at Berkshire Hathaway in 2015

Warren Buffett is perhaps the most widely followed and most widely recognized leader in the financial markets today. Now his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) has submitted its 2015 annual earnings report and the full 2015 annual report. The rest of the market may have its share of problems, but on the surface everything would seem to be fine here.

Berkshire Hathaway posted fourth-quarter 2015 operating earnings of $4.673 billion, up from the $3.963 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014. For 2015 as a whole, operating income rose to $17.358 billion, versus $16.551 billion the prior year.

Berkshire Hathaway’s net earnings also rose in 2015, after including the investment and derivative gains and losses. Its net income was $5.478 billion in the fourth quarter (versus $4.155 billion in 2014) and its annual net income in 2015 after items rose to $24.083 billion (versus $19.872 billion).

At December 31, 2015, Berkshire Hathaway’s book value per share had increased some 6.4% from the end of 2014 to the end of 2015, to $155,501 per Class A equivalent share. As far as the market price of the stock, Berkshire Hathaway closed out 2015 at $197,800, and the closing price on February 27 was some $198,190.

The company’s insurance float, which was the net liabilities that Berkshire Hathaway assumed under insurance contracts, was approximately $88 billion as of December 31, 2015. Berkshire’s insurance float was $65.832 billion in 2010 and $27.871 billion in 2000. Buffett admits that growth here may be harder to expect.

As a reminder, a ratings agency recently noted that it was evaluating Berkshire Hathaway more like a true conglomerate rather than as an insurance holding company. Other items noted in the annual report worth perusing were seen as follows:

  • BNSF railroad dramatically improved its services, and the company invested about $5.8 billion during the year in capital expenditures. BNSF’s volume and pretax income rose while most other railroads declined. Income is expected to contract in 2016.
  • Precision Castparts has now been acquired and Buffett’s Powerhouse 5 units will now be called the Powerhouse 6 with PCC included. Buffett said that this $32 billion deal will substantially increase the company’s normalized per-share earning power.
  • Berkshire Hathaway invested $16 billion in property, plant and equipment in 2015, with some 86% of that deployed in the United States.
  • Its insurance operation again operated at an underwriting profit in 2015, now 13 years in a row, while it increased its float. That profit was $1.8 billion.

Berkshire also claimed to have increased its ownership interest in 2015 in its “Big Four” investments. These are American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP), Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO), International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC). Two of the gains were due to outright share purchases, and two were due to stock buybacks of the company shrinking their floats. Berkshire noted on these:

  • Purchased additional shares of IBM, increasing its stake to 8.4% from 7.8%.
  • Purchased additional shares of Wells Fargo, increasing its stake to 9.8% from 9.4%.
  • Coca-Cola’s stake grew to 9.3% from 9.2%, due to Coca-Cola’s ongoing stock buybacks.
  • American Express’s stake rose to 15.6% from 14.8%, due to the ongoing buybacks.

The Berkshire Hathaway of 2016 and beyond is likely to look far different that the company did even before 2010. The acquisitions of BNSF in rail and Precision Castparts in actual goods again will help Berkshire Hathaway from being as dependent on insurance.

The company’s investments also have changed handily, with a huge stake in Kraft Heinz Co. (NASDAQ: KHC). Buffett said on Kraft Heinz on a post-merger basis:

Before this transaction, we owned about 53% of Heinz at a cost of $4.25 billion. Now we own 325.4 million shares of Kraft Heinz (about 27%) that cost us $9.8 billion… Berkshire also owns Kraft Heinz preferred shares that pay us $720 million annually and are carried at $7.7 billion on our balance sheet. That holding will almost certainly be redeemed for $8.32 billion in June (the earliest date allowed under the preferred’s terms). That will be good news for Kraft Heinz and bad news for Berkshire.

Another interesting view here is that there are just 24 men and women working directly with Buffett at the formal Berkshire Hathaway corporate office. The company filed a 30,400-page federal income tax return, up some 6,000 pages from the prior year. The company also filed 3,530 state tax returns. Berkshire Hathaway’s subsidiaries employ 361,270 people worldwide.