OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway reeled in record profits in 2013 as its wide-ranging businesses capitalized on the improving U.S. economy, though its performance again failed to keep pace with the surging S&P 500.
"On the operating front, just about everything turned out well for us last year — in some cases very well," Berkshire's chairman and CEO wrote in his annual letter to shareholders released Saturday.
Buffett touted performance gains at auto insurer Geico and in its "Powerhouse Five" — a group of non-insurance businesses including Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and electric utility MidAmerican Energy that posted pretax earnings of $10.8 billion for 2013, up nearly $760 million year-over-year. In total, Berkshire owns roughly 80 subsidiaries, including clothing, furniture and jewelry firms. It also has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. In 2013 Berkshire spent nearly $18 billion to buy NV Energy and about half of foodmaker H.J. Heinz.
Buffett's preferred measure of Berkshire's performance is the growth in book value — its assets minus liabilities. By that measure, Berkshire gained a substantial 18.2 percent in 2013, but couldn't match the S&P 500's 32.4 percent run-up. That marks the fifth straight year that the company has underperformed the S&P. But in his letter, Buffett noted that over the full six-year market cycle — which would include the 2008 rock-bottom market year — the Omaha, Neb., company outperformed the benchmark index.
"Through full cycles in future years, we expect to do that again," Buffett wrote. "If we fail to do so, we will not have earned our pay. After all, you could always own an index fund and be assured of S&P results."
Buffett said he and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger will continue to look for other investments and acquisitions that allow them to bet on the future of the American economy.
"Charlie and I have always considered a bet on ever-rising U.S. prosperity to be very close to a sure thing," Buffett wrote. "Indeed, who has ever benefited during the past 237 years by betting against America?"
Buffett said Berkshire has a solid foundation that includes roughly $48 billion cash and owning 8 ½ businesses big enough to be part of the Fortune 500 if they were separate companies.
Berkshire earned $19.48 billion last year on total revenue of $182.15 billion. That's up from $14.82 billion in profit and revenue of $162.46 billion in 2012. Strong gains in the value of its investments and derivative contracts added $4.3 billion to the results, up from $2.2 billion the previous year. That included gains Berkshire recorded last fall as it redeemed warrants for General Electric and Goldman Sachs stock and Mars and Wrigley repaid Berkshire for an investment made during the financial crisis.
Buffett has said Berkshire's operating earnings are a better measure of how the company is performing in any given period, because those figures exclude the value of derivatives and investments, which can vary widely even though Berkshire rarely sells them.
Operating earnings grew to $15.1 billion, or $9,211 per Class A share, in 2013. That's up from $12.6 billion, or $7,629 per Class A share, in 2012. Four analysts surveyed by FactSet expected full-year operating earnings per share of $9,106.50 per Class A share.
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Berkshire Hathaway Inc.: www.berkshirehathaway.com