Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. was a big winner from the recent tax overhaul. Book value, a metric he’s called a “crude, but useful” way to track the conglomerate’s worth, climbed 13 percent to $211,750 per Class A share at the end of 2017 compared to three months earlier, the company said Saturday in a statement.
Analysts at Barclays Plc last month predicted that the measure of assets minus liabilities would rise as Berkshire lowered its tax liability on some appreciated investments. Buffett got a $29 billion boost to net earnings in the fourth quarter from the tax code changes.
Buffett had a mixed reaction to the tax overhaul passed by Congress last year. In January, he praised how the changes mean business owners will get a bigger share of profits and said he would have voted for it as a representative of Berkshire’s investors. Still, when asked if he would have encouraged legislators to support or fight it, Buffett said he would have gone with a different bill. The billionaire investor has long advocated for higher taxes on the wealthy, while the new law reduced the top income-tax rate.
Here’s some other takeaways from Berkshire’s earnings report:
- Operating earnings, which excludes some fluctuations in investments and derivatives, slumped 24 percent to $3.3 billion during the fourth quarter compared to the same period a year earlier.
- Berkshire’s cash pile swelled to $116 billion from $109 billion in the third quarter.
- Full-year earnings from BNSF, the company’s railroad, climbed 11 percent to about $4 billion in 2017 compared to a year earlier.
- Manufacturing, services and retailing operations reported that profit increased to $6.2 billion last year from $5.6 billion in 2016.
- The insurance businesses reported an underwriting loss of $2.2 billion as hurricanes and other natural disasters in 2017 weighed on results, leading to the first annual underwriting loss after a 14-year streak of gains, Buffett said in the letter.
Below are specific underwriting results highlights from Berkshire’s insurance businesses:
- GEICO booked a $310 million underwriting loss compared to a $462 million underwriting profit in 2016. The division said it generated $30.5 billion in premiums written for 2017, up substantially from $26.3 billion the year before. Premiums earned surpassed $29.4 billion compared to just under $25.5 billion in 2016.
- Berkshire Hathaway’s Primary Group overall enjoyed a $719 million underwriting gain for 2017, up from $657 million in 2016.
- The company’s Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group saw an underwriting loss above $3.6 billion compared to a $1 billion underwriting gain in 2016. Its property/casualty reinsurance arm generated $7.7 billion in premiums written for the year, up from just under $7 billion in 2016. Premiums earned came in at more than $7.5 billion compared to $7.2 billion the year before.
- Retroactive reinsurance premiums written and earned surpassed $10.7 billion (in part due to last year’s deal with AIG through Berkshire’s NICO Group), and that’s up from more than $1.25 billion in both categories in 2016.
- Berkshire Hathaway’s NICO Group reported more than $4.3 billion in premiums written and over $4.4 billion in premiums earned for 2017. That’s down from $4.4 billion in premiums written and $4.6 billion in net premiums earned for 2016.
- General Re Group produced $3.3 billion in premiums written and more than $3.1 billion in premiums earned for 2017. In 2016, the number was more than $2.5 billion in premiums written and the same figure for premiums earned.
*Editor’s Note: Carrier Management added additional financial results data to this story.