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Berkshire Hathaway 2Q profit jumps 41%

Published:Wednesday | August 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.-File

Warren Buffett's company, on Friday, reported a 41 per cent jump in its second-quarter profit that was boosted by a paper gain from a stock-swap deal completed earlier this year.

But even without the big investment gains, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. reported solid performances at most of its 80-odd subsidiaries, which include BNSF railroad and Geico Insurance.

Berkshire said its overall net income grew to US$6.4 billion, or US$3,889 per Class A share. That's up from US$4.54 billion, or US$2,763 per Class A share, in the same quarter a year ago.

Berkshire's revenue improved 11 per cent to US$49.76 billion from last year's US$44.69 billion.

Berkshire agreed earlier this year to acquire a Miami-based TV station from Graham Holdings Company in exchange for most of its shares in the company that once owned The Washington Post.

As part of that deal, Berkshire and Graham Holdings exchanged assets worth roughly US$1.1 billion.

Berkshire recorded a US$1.1 billion gain in the second quarter because that's when it took ownership of the WPLG television station and completed the exchange.

Buffett urges investors to pay more attention to the company's operating earnings because they exclude the swings in the value of investments and derivatives, which can vary greatly from quarter to quarter. Berkshire's operating earnings improved 11 per cent to US$4.3 billion, or US$2,634 per Class A share.

Four analysts surveyed by FactSet expected Berkshire to report operating earnings per Class A share of US$2,485.21.

Berkshire officials do not typically comment on their quarterly earnings reports, and they did not immediately respond to an interview request on Friday.

Berkshire finished the second quarter with more than US$55 billion cash on hand, so Buffett has the resources for another big acquisition if he finds an attractive target.

"He's piling up cash, so he must not see any real bargains out there," said Andy Kilpatrick, author of Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett.

Edward Jones analyst Jim Shanahan, whose firm has a "Buy" rating on Berkshire's stock, said the company's solid quarter is a sign that the overall economy continues growing.

"It sure does highlight the value of owning a diversified portfolio of businesses," Shanahan said.

BNSF railroad has been an important contributor to Berkshire's profits ever since it was acquired. Even though the railroad has been dealing with delays and service problems in the upper Great Plains, BNSF still contributed US$916 million to Berkshire's net income, up from US$884 million a year ago.

Berkshire utility division was helped by the US$5.6 billion acquisition of Nevada's main electric utility, NV Energy. Berkshire's utilities added US$375 million to its net income, up from US$279 million a year ago.

Berkshire's insurance companies added US$411 million from underwriting to its quarterly net income. That was down from last year's US$530 million net income from underwriting because Berkshire's reinsurance companies recorded large gains in 2013.

Besides insurance, utility and railroad companies, Berkshire owns clothing, furniture, brick, carpet, jewellery and pilot training firms. It also has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Company, IBM and Wells Fargo & Company.

- AP