Berkshire Hathaway’s operating profit from its businesses fell 6% in the fourth quarter, with its insurance investing and railroad, utilities and energy segments leading the decline.
Warren Buffett’s conglomerate had operating earnings of $4.38 billion, or $2,665 per Class A share, in the three months that ended Dec. 31, compared to $4.67 billion, or $2,843 per Class A share, a year earlier.
Analysts had expected operating earnings — the metric that Buffett encourages investors to follow — of $2,717 a Class A share.
Among Berkshire’s business segments, operating profit at the group that includes the BNSF railroad and Iowa utility MidAmerican Energy — which together account for 33% of company operating profit — fell 5% to $1.42 billion.
Investment income from insurance subsidiaries such as Geico fell 14% to about $900 million, though insurance underwriting profits rose 80% to $548 million.
“Geico’s low costs create a moat — an enduring one — that competitors are unable to cross,” Buffett said in his annual shareholders letter. “As a result, the company gobbles up market share year after year, ending 2016 with about 12% of industry volume. That’s up from 2.5% in 1995, the year Berkshire acquired control of Geico.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Berkshire’s acquisitions of metal components maker Precision Castparts Corp., its largest deal ever, and battery maker Duracell helped boost results. Revenue for the full year rose by 6% to $223.6 billion.
Berkshire’s book value increased 10.7% in the fourth quarter on a year-over-year basis to $172,108 per Class A share. At the same time, net income rose 8% to $2,665 from the prior quarter.
“Our expectation is that investment gains will continue to be substantial — though totally random as to timing — and that these will supply significant funds for business purchases,” Buffett wrote.
“Concurrently, Berkshire’s superb corps of operating CEOs will focus on increasing earnings at the individual businesses they manage, sometimes helping them to grow by making bolt-on acquisitions,” he added. “By our avoiding the issuance of Berkshire stock, any improvement in earnings will translate into equivalent per-share gains.”