Excerpts from Berkshire Hathaway Inc Annual Report 2011
To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.:
The per-share book value of both our Class A and Class B stock increased by 4.6% in 2011. Over the last 47 years (that is, since present management took over), book value has grown from $19 to $99,860, a rate of 19.8% compounded annually.*
Charlie Munger, Berkshire’s Vice Chairman and my partner, and I feel good about the company’s progress during 2011. Here are the highlights:
• The primary job of a Board of Directors is to see that the right people are running the business and to be sure that the next generation of leaders is identified and ready to take over tomorrow. I have been on 19 corporate boards, and Berkshire’s directors are at the top of the list in the time and diligence they have devoted to succession planning. What’s more, their efforts have paid off.
• On September 16th we acquired Lubrizol, a worldwide producer of additives and other specialty chemicals. The company has had an outstanding record since James Hambrick became CEO in 2004, with pre-tax profits increasing from $147 million to $1,085 million. Lubrizol will have many opportunities for “bolt-on” acquisitions in the specialty chemical field. Indeed, we’ve already agreed to three, costing $493 million. James is a disciplined buyer and a superb operator. Charlie and I are eager to expand his managerial domain.
• Our insurance operations continued their delivery of costless capital that funds a myriad of other opportunities. This business produces “float” – money that doesn’t belong to us, but that we get to invest for Berkshire’s benefit. And if we pay out less in losses and expenses than we receive in premiums, we additionally earn an underwriting profit, meaning the float costs us less than nothing. Though we are sure to have underwriting losses from time to time, we’ve now had nine consecutive years of underwriting profits, totaling about $17 billion. Over the same nine years our float increased from $41 billion to its current record of $70 billion. Insurance has been good to us.
We view these holdings as partnership interests in wonderful businesses, not as marketable securities to be bought or sold based on their near-term prospects. Our share of their earnings, however, are far from fully reflected in our earnings; only the dividends we receive from these businesses show up in our financial reports. Over time, though, the undistributed earnings of these companies that are attributable to our ownership are of huge importance to us. That’s because they will be used in a variety of ways to increase future earnings and dividends of the investee. They may also be devoted to stock repurchases, which will increase our share of the company’s future earnings.
Had we owned our present positions throughout last year, our dividends from the “Big Four” would have been $862 million. That’s all that would have been reported in Berkshire’s income statement. Our share of this quartet’s earnings, however, would have been far greater: $3.3 billion. Charlie and I believe that the $2.4 billion that goes unreported on our books creates at least that amount of value for Berkshire as it fuels earnings gains in future years. We expect the combined earnings of the four – and their dividends as well – to increase in 2012 and, for that matter, almost every year for a long time to come. A decade from now, our current holdings of the four companies might well account for earnings of $7 billion, of which $2 billion in dividends would come to us.
• Last year, I told you that “a housing recovery will probably begin within a year or so.” I was dead wrong. We have five businesses whose results are significantly influenced by housing activity. The connection is direct at Clayton Homes, which is the largest producer of homes in the country, accounting for about 7% of those constructed during 2011.
Intrinsic Business Value
Charlie and I measure our performance by the rate of gain in Berkshire’s per-share intrinsic business value. If our gain over time outstrips the performance of the S&P 500, we have earned our paychecks. If it doesn’t, we are overpaid at any price.
We have no way to pinpoint intrinsic value. But we do have a useful, though considerably understated, proxy for it: per-share book value. This yardstick is meaningless at most companies. At Berkshire, however, book value very roughly tracks business values. That’s because the amount by which Berkshire’s intrinsic value exceeds book value does not swing wildly from year to year, though it increases in most years. Over time, the divergence will likely become ever more substantial in absolute terms, remaining reasonably steady, however, on a percentage basis as both the numerator and denominator of the business-value/book-value equation increase.
Charlie and I like to see gains in both areas, but our primary focus is on building operating earnings. Over time, the businesses we currently own should increase their aggregate earnings, and we hope also to purchase some large operations that will give us a further boost. We now have eight subsidiaries that would each be included in the Fortune 500 were they stand-alone companies. That leaves only 492 to go. My task is clear, and I’m on the prowl.
At our limit price of 110% of book value, repurchases clearly increase Berkshire’s per-share intrinsic value. And the more and the cheaper we buy, the greater the gain for continuing shareholders. Therefore, if given the opportunity, we will likely repurchase stock aggressively at our price limit or lower.
Today, IBM has 1.16 billion shares outstanding, of which we own about 63.9 million or 5.5%. Naturally, what happens to the company’s earnings over the next five years is of enormous importance to us. Beyond that, the company will likely spend $50 billion or so in those years to repurchase shares. Our quiz for the day: What should a long-term shareholder, such as Berkshire, cheer for during that period?
I won’t keep you in suspense. We should wish for IBM’s stock price to languish throughout the five years.
Let’s do the math. If IBM’s stock price averages, say, $200 during the period, the company will acquire 250 million shares for its $50 billion. There would consequently be 910 million shares outstanding, and we would own about 7% of the company. If the stock conversely sells for an average of $300 during the five-year period, IBM will acquire only 167 million shares. That would leave about 990 million shares outstanding after five years, of which we would own 6.5%.
If IBM were to earn, say, $20 billion in the fifth year, our share of those earnings would be a full $100 million greater under the “disappointing” scenario of a lower stock price than they would have been at the higher price. At some later point our shares would be worth perhaps $11⁄2 billion more than if the “high-price” repurchase scenario had taken place.
The logic is simple: If you are going to be a net buyer of stocks in the future, either directly with your own money or indirectly (through your ownership of a company that is repurchasing shares), you are hurt when stocks rise. You benefit when stocks swoon. Emotions, however, too often complicate the matter: Most people, including those who will be net buyers in the future, take comfort in seeing stock prices advance. These shareholders resemble a commuter who rejoices after the price of gas increases, simply because his tank contains a day’s supply.
Charlie and I don’t expect to win many of you over to our way of thinking – we’ve observed enough human behavior to know the futility of that – but we do want you to be aware of our personal calculus. And here a confession is in order: In my early days I, too, rejoiced when the market rose. Then I read Chapter Eight of Ben Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, the chapter dealing with how investors should view fluctuations in stock prices. Immediately the scales fell from my eyes, and low prices became my friend. Picking up that book was one of the luckiest moments in my life.
First by float size is the Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group, run by Ajit Jain. Ajit insures risks that no one else has the desire or the capital to take on. His operation combines capacity, speed, decisiveness and, most importantly, brains in a manner that is unique in the insurance business. Yet he never exposes Berkshire to risks that are inappropriate in relation to our resources. Indeed, we are far more conservative in that respect than most large insurers. For example, if the insurance industry should experience a $250 billion loss from some mega-catastrophe – a loss about triple anything it has ever faced – Berkshire as a whole would likely record a moderate profit for the year because of its many streams of earnings. Concurrently, all other major insurers and reinsurers would be far in the red, and some would face insolvency.
From a standing start in 1985, Ajit has created an insurance business with float of $34 billion and significant underwriting profits, a feat that no CEO of any other insurer has come close to matching. By these accomplishments, he has added a great many billions of dollars to the value of Berkshire. Charlie would gladly trade me for a second Ajit. Alas, there is none.
Many insurers pass the first three tests and flunk the fourth. They simply can’t turn their back on business that their competitors are eagerly writing. That old line, “The other guy is doing it so we must as well,” spells trouble in any business, but in none more so than insurance. Indeed, a good underwriter needs an independent mindset akin to that of the senior citizen who received a call from his wife while driving home. “Albert, be careful,” she warned, “I just heard on the radio that there’s a car going the wrong way down the Interstate.” “Mabel, they don’t know the half of it,” replied Albert, “It’s not just one car, there are hundreds of them.”
We have two very large businesses, BNSF and MidAmerican Energy, that have important common characteristics distinguishing them from our many other businesses. Consequently, we assign them their own sector in this letter and also split out their combined financial statistics in our GAAP balance sheet and income statement.
A key characteristic of both companies is the huge investment they have in very long-lived, regulated assets, with these partially funded by large amounts of long-term debt that is not guaranteed by Berkshire. Our credit is not needed: Both businesses have earning power that even under terrible business conditions amply covers their interest requirements. In a less than robust economy during 2011, for example, BNSF’s interest coverage was 9.5x. At MidAmerican, meanwhile, two key factors ensure its ability to service debt under all circumstances: The stability of earnings that is inherent in our exclusively offering an essential service and a diversity of earnings streams, which shield it from the actions of any single regulatory body.
Measured by ton-miles, rail moves 42% of America’s inter-city freight, and BNSF moves more than any other railroad – about 37% of the industry total. A little math will tell you that about 15% of all inter-city ton-miles of freight in the U.S. is transported by BNSF. It is no exaggeration to characterize railroads as the circulatory system of our economy. Your railroad is the largest artery.
Massive investments of the sort that BNSF is making would be foolish if it could not earn appropriate returns on the incremental sums it commits. But I am confident it will do so because of the value it delivers. Many years ago Ben Franklin counseled, “Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee.” Translating this to our regulated businesses, he might today say, “Take care of your customer, and the regulator – your customer’s representative – will take care of you.” Good behavior by each party begets good behavior in return.
This group of companies sells products ranging from lollipops to jet airplanes. Some of the businesses enjoy terrific economics, measured by earnings on unleveraged net tangible assets that run from 25% after-tax to more than 100%. Others produce good returns in the area of 12-20%. A few, however, have very poor returns, a result of some serious mistakes I made in my job of capital allocation. These errors came about because I misjudged either the competitive strength of the business being purchased or the future economics of the industry in which it operated. I try to look out ten or twenty years when making an acquisition, but sometimes my eyesight has been poor. Charlie’s has been better; he voted no more than “present” on several of my errant purchases.
Please understand, however, that Charlie and I are neither masochists nor Pollyannas. If either of the failings we set forth in Rule 11 is present – if the business will likely be a cash drain over the longer term, or if labor strife is endemic – we will take prompt and decisive action. Such a situation has happened only a couple of times in our 47-year history, and none of the businesses we now own is in straits requiring us to consider disposing of it.
The profile of the remaining 2011 earnings – $4,387 million – illustrates the comeback of much of America from the devastation wrought by the 2008 financial panic. Though housing-related businesses remain in the emergency room, most other businesses have left the hospital with their health fully restored.
It’s a joy to watch Marmon’s progress under Frank Ptak’s leadership. In addition to achieving internal growth, Frank regularly makes bolt-on acquisitions that, in aggregate, will materially increase Marmon’s earning power. (He did three, costing about $270 million, in the last few months.) Joint ventures around the world are another opportunity for Marmon. At midyear Marmon partnered with the Kundalia family in an Indian crane operation that is already delivering substantial profits. This is Marmon’s second venture with the family, following a successful wire and cable partnership instituted a few years ago.
Of the eleven major sectors in which Marmon operates, ten delivered gains in earnings last year. You can be confident of higher earnings from Marmon in the years ahead.
• “Buy commodities, sell brands” has long been a formula for business success. It has produced enormous and sustained profits for Coca-Cola since 1886 and Wrigley since 1891. On a smaller scale, we have enjoyed good fortune with this approach at See’s Candy since we purchased it 40 years ago.
Last year See’s had record pre-tax earnings of $83 million, bringing its total since we bought it to $1.65 billion. Contrast that figure with our purchase price of $25 million and our yearend carrying-value (net of cash) of less than zero. (Yes, you read that right; capital employed at See’s fluctuates seasonally, hitting a low after Christmas.) Credit Brad Kinstler for taking the company to new heights since he became CEO in 2006.
Our experience with NFM and the Blumkin family that runs it has been a real joy. The business was built by Rose Blumkin (known to all as “Mrs. B”), who started the company in 1937 with $500 and a dream. She sold me our interest when she was 89 and worked until she was 103. (After retiring, she died the next year, a sequence I point out to any other Berkshire manager who even thinks of retiring.)
Overall, the intrinsic value of the businesses in this Berkshire sector significantly exceeds their book value. For many of the smaller companies, however, this is not true. I have made more than my share of mistakes buying small companies. Charlie long ago told me, “If something’s not worth doing at all, it’s not worth doing well,” and I should have listened harder. In any event, our large purchases have generally worked well – extraordinarily well in a few cases – and overall this sector is a winner for us.
Certain shareholders have told me they hunger for more discussions of accounting arcana. So here’s a bit of GAAP-mandated nonsense I hope both of them enjoy.
Common sense would tell you that our varied subsidiaries should be carried on our books at their cost plus the earnings they have retained since our purchase (unless their economic value has materially decreased, in which case an appropriate write-down must be taken). And that’s essentially the reality at Berkshire – except for the weird situation at Marmon.
As is well-known, the U.S. went off the rails in its home-ownership and mortgage-lending policies, and for these mistakes our economy is now paying a huge price. All of us participated in the destructive behavior – government, lenders, borrowers, the media, rating agencies, you name it. At the core of the folly was the almost universal belief that the value of houses was certain to increase over time and that any dips would be inconsequential. The acceptance of this premise justified almost any price and practice in housing transactions. Homeowners everywhere felt richer and rushed to “monetize” the increased value of their homes by refinancings. These massive cash infusions fueled a consumption binge throughout our economy. It all seemed great fun while it lasted. (A largely unnoted fact: Large numbers of people who have “lost” their house through foreclosure have actually realized a profit because they carried out refinancings earlier that gave them cash in excess of their cost. In these cases, the evicted homeowner was the winner, and the victim was the lender.)
In 2007, the bubble burst, just as all bubbles must. We are now in the fourth year of a cure that, though long and painful, is sure to succeed. Today, household formations are consistently exceeding housing starts.
As was the case with Coca-Cola in 1988 and the railroads in 2006, I was late to the IBM party. I have been reading the company’s annual report for more than 50 years, but it wasn’t until a Saturday in March last year that my thinking crystallized. As Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
One additional point about these two new arrivals. Both Ted and Todd will be helpful to the next CEO of Berkshire in making acquisitions. They have excellent “business minds” that grasp the economic forces likely to determine the future of a wide variety of businesses. They are aided in their thinking by an understanding of what is predictable and what is unknowable.
Charlie and I continue to believe that our equity-put positions will produce a significant profit, considering both the $4.2 billion of float we will have held for more than fifteen years and the $222 million profit we’ve already realized on contracts that we repurchased. At yearend, Berkshire’s book value reflected a liability of $8.5 billion for the remaining contracts; if they had all come due at that time our payment would have been $6.2 billion.
The Basic Choices for Investors and the One We Strongly Prefer
Investing is often described as the process of laying out money now in the expectation of receiving more money in the future. At Berkshire we take a more demanding approach, defining investing as the transfer to others of purchasing power now with the reasoned expectation of receiving more purchasing power – after taxes have been paid on nominal gains – in the future. More succinctly, investing is forgoing consumption now in order to have the ability to consume more at a later date.
From our definition there flows an important corollary: The riskiness of an investment is not measured by beta (a Wall Street term encompassing volatility and often used in measuring risk) but rather by the probability – the reasoned probability – of that investment causing its owner a loss of purchasing-power over his contemplated holding period. Assets can fluctuate greatly in price and not be risky as long as they are reasonably certain to deliver increased purchasing power over their holding period. And as we will see, a non-fluctuating asset can be laden with risk.
Investment possibilities are both many and varied. There are three major categories, however, and it’s important to understand the characteristics of each. So let’s survey the field.
• Investments that are denominated in a given currency include money-market funds, bonds, mortgages, bank deposits, and other instruments. Most of these currency-based investments are thought of as “safe.” In truth they are among the most dangerous of assets. Their beta may be zero, but their risk is huge. Over the past century these instruments have destroyed the purchasing power of investors in many countries, even as the holders continued to receive timely payments of interest and principal. This ugly result, moreover, will forever recur. Governments determine the ultimate value of money, and systemic forces will sometimes cause them to gravitate to policies that produce inflation. From time to time such policies spin out of control.
Even in the U.S., where the wish for a stable currency is strong, the dollar has fallen a staggering 86% in value since 1965, when I took over management of Berkshire. It takes no less than $7 today to buy what $1 did at that time. Consequently, a tax-free institution would have needed 4.3% interest annually from bond investments over that period to simply maintain its purchasing power. Its managers would have been kidding themselves if they thought of any portion of that interest as “income.”
For tax-paying investors like you and me, the picture has been far worse. During the same 47-year period, continuous rolling of U.S. Treasury bills produced 5.7% annually. That sounds satisfactory. But if an individual investor paid personal income taxes at a rate averaging 25%, this 5.7% return would have yielded nothing in the way of real income. This investor’s visible income tax would have stripped him of 1.4 points of the stated yield, and the invisible inflation tax would have devoured the remaining 4.3 points. It’s noteworthy that the implicit inflation “tax” was more than triple the explicit income tax that our investor probably thought of as his main burden. “In God We Trust” may be imprinted on our currency, but the hand that activates our government’s printing press has been all too human.
High interest rates, of course, can compensate purchasers for the inflation risk they face with currency-based investments – and indeed, rates in the early 1980s did that job nicely. Current rates, however, do not come close to offsetting the purchasing-power risk that investors assume. Right now bonds should come with a warning label.
Under today’s conditions, therefore, I do not like currency-based investments. Even so, Berkshire holds significant amounts of them, primarily of the short-term variety. At Berkshire the need for ample liquidity occupies center stage and will never be slighted, however inadequate rates may be. Accommodating this need, we primarily hold U.S. Treasury bills, the only investment that can be counted on for liquidity under the most chaotic of economic conditions. Our working level for liquidity is $20 billion; $10 billion is our absolute minimum.
Beyond the requirements that liquidity and regulators impose on us, we will purchase currency-related securities only if they offer the possibility of unusual gain – either because a particular credit is mispriced, as can occur in periodic junk-bond debacles, or because rates rise to a level that offers the possibility of realizing substantial capital gains on high-grade bonds when rates fall. Though we’ve exploited both opportunities in the past – and may do so again – we are now 180 degrees removed from such prospects. Today, a wry comment that Wall Streeter Shelby Cullom Davis made long ago seems apt: “Bonds promoted as offering risk-free returns are now priced to deliver return-free risk.”
• The second major category of investments involves assets that will never produce anything, but that are purchased in the buyer’s hope that someone else – who also knows that the assets will be forever unproductive – will pay more for them in the future. Tulips, of all things, briefly became a favorite of such buyers in the 17th century.
This type of investment requires an expanding pool of buyers, who, in turn, are enticed because they believe the buying pool will expand still further. Owners are not inspired by what the asset itself can produce – it will remain lifeless forever – but rather by the belief that others will desire it even more avidly in the future.
The major asset in this category is gold, currently a huge favorite of investors who fear almost all other assets, especially paper money (of whose value, as noted, they are right to be fearful). Gold, however, has two significant shortcomings, being neither of much use nor procreative. True, gold has some industrial and decorative utility, but the demand for these purposes is both limited and incapable of soaking up new production. Meanwhile, if you own one ounce of gold for an eternity, you will still own one ounce at its end.
What motivates most gold purchasers is their belief that the ranks of the fearful will grow. During the past decade that belief has proved correct. Beyond that, the rising price has on its own generated additional buying enthusiasm, attracting purchasers who see the rise as validating an investment thesis. As “bandwagon” investors join any party, they create their own truth – for a while.
Over the past 15 years, both Internet stocks and houses have demonstrated the extraordinary excesses that can be created by combining an initially sensible thesis with well-publicized rising prices. In these bubbles, an army of originally skeptical investors succumbed to the “proof” delivered by the market, and the pool of buyers – for a time – expanded sufficiently to keep the bandwagon rolling. But bubbles blown large enough inevitably pop. And then the old proverb is confirmed once again: “What the wise man does in the beginning, the fool does in the end.”
Today the world’s gold stock is about 170,000 metric tons. If all of this gold were melded together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet per side. (Picture it fitting comfortably within a baseball infield.) At $1,750 per ounce – gold’s price as I write this – its value would be $9.6 trillion. Call this cube pile A.
Let’s now create a pile B costing an equal amount. For that, we could buy all U.S. cropland (400 million acres with output of about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (the world’s most profitable company, one earning more than $40 billion annually). After these purchases, we would have about $1 trillion left over for walking-around money (no sense feeling strapped after this buying binge). Can you imagine an investor with $9.6 trillion selecting pile A over pile B?
Beyond the staggering valuation given the existing stock of gold, current prices make today’s annual production of gold command about $160 billion. Buyers – whether jewelry and industrial users, frightened individuals, or speculators – must continually absorb this additional supply to merely maintain an equilibrium at present prices.
A century from now the 400 million acres of farmland will have produced staggering amounts of corn, wheat, cotton, and other crops – and will continue to produce that valuable bounty, whatever the currency may be. Exxon Mobil will probably have delivered trillions of dollars in dividends to its owners and will also hold assets worth many more trillions (and, remember, you get 16 Exxons). The 170,000 tons of gold will be unchanged in size and still incapable of producing anything. You can fondle the cube, but it will not respond.
Admittedly, when people a century from now are fearful, it’s likely many will still rush to gold. I’m confident, however, that the $9.6 trillion current valuation of pile A will compound over the century at a rate far inferior to that achieved by pile B.
• Our first two categories enjoy maximum popularity at peaks of fear: Terror over economic collapse drives individuals to currency-based assets, most particularly U.S. obligations, and fear of currency collapse fosters movement to sterile assets such as gold. We heard “cash is king” in late 2008, just when cash should have been deployed rather than held. Similarly, we heard “cash is trash” in the early 1980s just when fixed-dollar investments were at their most attractive level in memory. On those occasions, investors who required a supportive crowd paid dearly for that comfort.
My own preference – and you knew this was coming – is our third category: investment in productive assets, whether businesses, farms, or real estate. Ideally, these assets should have the ability in inflationary times to deliver output that will retain its purchasing-power value while requiring a minimum of new capital investment. Farms, real estate, and many businesses such as Coca-Cola, IBM and our own See’s Candy meet that double-barreled test. Certain other companies – think of our regulated utilities, for example – fail it because inflation places heavy capital requirements on them. To earn more, their owners must invest more. Even so, these investments will remain superior to nonproductive or currency-based assets.
Whether the currency a century from now is based on gold, seashells, shark teeth, or a piece of paper (as today), people will be willing to exchange a couple of minutes of their daily labor for a Coca-Cola or some See’s peanut brittle. In the future the U.S. population will move more goods, consume more food, and require more living space than it does now. People will forever exchange what they produce for what others produce.
Our country’s businesses will continue to efficiently deliver goods and services wanted by our citizens. Metaphorically, these commercial “cows” will live for centuries and give ever greater quantities of “milk” to boot. Their value will be determined not by the medium of exchange but rather by their capacity to deliver milk. Proceeds from the sale of the milk will compound for the owners of the cows, just as they did during the 20th century when the Dow increased from 66 to 11,497 (and paid loads of dividends as well). Berkshire’s goal will be to increase its ownership of first-class businesses. Our first choice will be to own them in their entirety – but we will also be owners by way of holding sizable amounts of marketable stocks. I believe that over any extended period of time this category of investing will prove to be the runaway winner among the three we’ve examined. More important, it will be by far the safest.
The Annual Meeting
The annual meeting will be held on Saturday, May 5th at the CenturyLink Center (renamed from “Qwest”).
BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INC. ACQUISITION CRITERIA
We are eager to hear from principals or their representatives about businesses that meet all of the following criteria:
(1) Large purchases (at least $75 million of pre-tax earnings unless the business will fit into one of our existing units),
(2) Demonstrated consistent earning power (future projections are of no interest to us, nor are “turnaround” situations),
(3) Businesses earning good returns on equity while employing little or no debt,
(4) Management in place (we can’t supply it),
(5) Simple businesses (if there’s lots of technology, we won’t understand it),
(6) An offering price (we don’t want to waste our time or that of the seller by talking, even preliminarily, about a transaction when price is unknown).
The larger the company, the greater will be our interest: We would like to make an acquisition in the $5-20 billion range. We are not interested, however, in receiving suggestions about purchases we might make in the general stock market. We will not engage in unfriendly takeovers. We can promise complete confidentiality and a very fast answer – customarily within five minutes – as to whether we’re interested. We prefer to buy for cash, but will consider issuing stock when we receive as much in intrinsic business value as we give. We don’t participate in auctions.
Charlie and I frequently get approached about acquisitions that don’t come close to meeting our tests: We’ve found that if you advertise an interest in buying collies, a lot of people will call hoping to sell you their cocker spaniels. A line from a country song expresses our feeling about new ventures, turnarounds, or auction-like sales: “When the phone don’t ring, you’ll know it’s me.”
BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INC.
INTRINSIC VALUE – TODAY AND TOMORROW *
Though Berkshire’s intrinsic value cannot be precisely calculated, two of its three key pillars can be measured. Charlie and I rely heavily on these measurements when we make our own estimates of Berkshire’s value. The first component of value is our investments: stocks, bonds and cash equivalents. At yearend these totaled $158 billion at market value.
Insurance float – money we temporarily hold in our insurance operations that does not belong to us – funds $66 billion of our investments. This float is “free” as long as insurance underwriting breaks even, meaning that the premiums we receive equal the losses and expenses we incur. Of course, underwriting results are volatile, swinging erratically between profits and losses. Over our entire history, though, we’ve been significantly profitable, and I also expect us to average breakeven results or better in the future. If we do that, all of our investments – those funded both by float and by retained earnings – can be viewed as an element of value for Berkshire shareholders.
Berkshire’s second component of value is earnings that come from sources other than investments and insurance underwriting. These earnings are delivered by our 68 non-insurance companies, itemized on page 106. In Berkshire’s early years, we focused on the investment side. During the past two decades, however, we’ve increasingly emphasized the development of earnings from non-insurance businesses, a practice that will continue.
The following tables illustrate this shift. In the first table, we present per-share investments at decade intervals beginning in 1970, three years after we entered the insurance business. We exclude those investments applicable to minority interests.
Yearend Per-Share Investments Period Compounded Annual Increase in Per-Share Investments
1970 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ 66
1980 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 754 1970-1980 27.5%
1990 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7,798 1980-1990 26.3%
2000 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50,229 1990-2000 20.5%
2010 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94,730 2000-2010 6.6%
Though our compounded annual increase in per-share investments was a healthy 19.9% over the 40-year period, our rate of increase has slowed sharply as we have focused on using funds to buy operating businesses. The payoff from this shift is shown in the following table, which illustrates how earnings of our non-insurance businesses have increased, again on a per-share basis and after applicable minority interests.
Year Per-Share Pre-Tax Earnings Period Compounded Annual Increase in Per-Share Pre-Tax Earnings
1970 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ 2.87
1980 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19.01 1970-1980 20.8%
1990 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102.58 1980-1990 18.4%
2000 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 918.66 1990-2000 24.5%
2010 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5,926.04 2000-2010 20.5%
For the forty years, our compounded annual gain in pre-tax, non-insurance earnings per share is 21.0%. During the same period, Berkshire’s stock price increased at a rate of 22.1% annually. Over time, you can expect our stock price to move in rough tandem with Berkshire’s investments and earnings. Market price and intrinsic value often follow very different paths – sometimes for extended periods – but eventually they meet.
There is a third, more subjective, element to an intrinsic value calculation that can be either positive or negative: the efficacy with which retained earnings will be deployed in the future. We, as well as many other businesses, are likely to retain earnings over the next decade that will equal, or even exceed, the capital we presently employ. Some companies will turn these retained dollars into fifty-cent pieces, others into two-dollar bills.
* Reproduced from Berkshire Hathaway Inc. 2010 Annual Report.
money” factor must always be evaluated along with the “what-do-we-have-now” calculation in order for us, or anybody, to arrive at a sensible estimate of a company’s intrinsic value. That’s because an outside investor stands by helplessly as management reinvests his share of the company’s earnings. If a CEO can be expected to do this job well, the reinvestment prospects add to the company’s current value; if the CEO’s talents or motives are suspect, today’s value must be discounted. The difference in outcome can be huge. A dollar of then-value in the hands of Sears Roebuck’s or Montgomery Ward’s CEOs in the late 1960s had a far different destiny than did a dollar entrusted to Sam Walton.
Copyright© 2012 By Warren E. Buffett, All Rights Reserved