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Tax Law Gives Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway a Big Boost in Value

  • Berkshire’s book value, or assets minus liabilities, jumps 13%
  • Insurance posts first underwriting loss after 14-year streak

Buffett's Annual Letter

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.

Warren Buffett

Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

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.
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