Good Earnings at Berkshire Hathaway Might Not Be Good Enough

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Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) reported its second-quarter earnings on Friday after the close of trading. Normally a gain of 25% in profits should sound great. Those gains were driven by insurance underwriting improvements and from investments. Still, weak oil and even coal muting the rail traffic may have turned a good earnings report from Warren Buffett into one that could be forgotten. Or is it?

Revenues were up by 6% to $54.46 billion. Net income was roughly $5 billion, or $3,042 per Berkshire Hathaway share (Class A). This was up from $4 billion or $2,442 per Class A share in the second quarter of 2015. Berkshire Hathaway’s operating profit was 18% higher to $4.6 billion in the second quarter. That translates to $2,803 per Class A share. Those same results from a year earlier were $3.89 billion (or $2,367 per Class A share).

Investors need to understand that very few analysts actually dare to make earnings forecasts for the mighty Berkshire Hathaway. That is why a comparing of earnings to estimates might make a quarterly report look a bit misleading. There are so many moving parts that it is just hard to accurately forecast data that is kept under lock and key. Thomson Reuters was calling for $2,911 in earnings per Class A share.

Buffett himself has said that the book value per share is more representative of what is really happening there. Berkshire Hathaway’s book value per share was up about 1.7% sequentially to $160,009 per Class A share.

Again, insurance income from underwriting was a big boost this quarter. There was a $337 million profit (versus a loss of $38 million in the second quarter of 2015). Berkshire Hathaway’s total insurance profit was up 40% at $1.32 billion, if you include the $978 million in income from investments. The driving force here was the major catastrophic claims operation ($184 million in gains versus $411 million in losses a year ago).

Team Buffett showed that the investment gains and derivatives combined added some $394 million in profits. That tally was a gain of $123 million in the second quarter of 2015.

One part of this report may seem misleading. Buffett’s purchase of Precision Castparts, which used to be just an investment before it was fully acquired for a deal north of $30 billion, managed to increase Berkshire Hathaway’s industrial products group by 34% on a pretax basis.

The Buffett holdings will look rather different for the quarter ending June 30. Kraft Heinz Co. (NASDAQ: KHC) redeemed $8.32 billion of preferred stock that was owned by Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett had warned that this redemption was coming, and that he wished he would have been able to keep that part of the Kraft Heinz position.

Berkshire Hathaway also ended the June-2016 quarter with almost $72.7 billion in cash and cash equivalents. That figure is from a total of insurance and other, railroad utilities and energy, and finance and financial products.

One issue that may be worth noting is that the total equity securities listed on the balance sheet was $102.563 billion, down from $110.212 billion at the end of 2015. Fixed maturity investments (bonds) were also lower, at $23.744 billion at June 30 versus $25.988 billion as of December 31, 2015. Approximately 61% of the aggregate fair value of the common equity securities (the big four positions had a concentration of 59% at the end of 2015) was concentrated in the same big four companies as follows:

  • American Express at $9.2 billion
  • Wells Fargo at $23.7 billion
  • IBM at $12.3 billion
  • Coca-Cola at $18.1 billion

There was also a rather large uptick in the goodwill and intangible assets. These are likely from acquisitions, particularly the freshly closed Precision Castparts deal. These were shown as follows:

  • Goodwill $53.564B (6/30) versus $37.188B (12/31)
  • Other intangible assets $35.179B (6/30) versus $9.148B (12/31)

Kraft Heinz is gone for that preferred share, as is that 9% coupon, but the equity value in common stock was shown to be $15.752 billion at June 30, versus $15.714 billion at December 31.

Berkshire Hathaway’s Class A shares closed up $3,180 (1.48%) at $218,010 on Friday. Their 52-week trading range is $186,900 to $221,985.