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1989
  BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INC.   To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.:  Our gain in net worth during 1989 was $1.515 billion, or 44.4%. Over the last 25 years (that is, since present management took over) our per-share book value has grown from $19.46 to $4,296.01, or at a rate of 23.8% compounded annually. What counts, however, is intrinsic value - the figure indicating what all of our constituent businesses are rationally worth. With perfect foresight, this number can be calculated by taking all future cash flows of a business - in and out - and discounting them at prevailing interest rates. So valued, all businesses, from manufacturers of buggy whips to operators of cellular phones, become economic equals. Back when Berkshire's book value was $19.46, intrinsic value was somewhat less because the book value was entirely tied up in a textile business not worth the figure at which it was carried. Now most of our businesses are worth far more than their carrying values. This agreeable evolution from a discount to a premium means that Berkshire's intrinsic business value has compounded at a rate that somewhat exceeds our 23.8% annual growth in book value. The rear-view mirror is one thing; the windshield is another. A large portion of our book value is represented by equity securities that, with minor exceptions, are carried on our balance sheet at current market values. At yearend these securities were valued at higher prices, relative to their own intrinsic business values, than has been the case in the past. One reason is the buoyant 1989 stock market. More important, the virtues of these businesses have been widely recognized. Whereas once their stock prices were inappropriately low, they are not now. We will keep most of our major holdings, regardless of how they are priced relative to intrinsic business value. This 'til- death-do-us-part attitude, combined with the full prices these holdings command, means that they cannot be expected to push up Berkshire's value in the future as sharply as in the past. In other words, our performance to date has benefited from a double- dip: (1) the exceptional gains in intrinsic value that our portfolio companies have achieved; (2) the additional bonus we realized as the market appropriately corrected the prices of these companies, raising their valuations in relation to those of the average business. We will continue to benefit from good gains in business value that we feel confident our portfolio companies will make. But our catch-up rewards have been realized, which means we'll have to settle for a single-dip in the future. We face another obstacle: In a finite world, high growth rates must self-destruct. If the base from which the growth is  taking place is tiny, this law may not operate for a time. But when the base balloons, the party ends: A high growth rate eventually forges its own anchor. Carl Sagan has entertainingly described this phenomenon, musing about the destiny of bacteria that reproduce by dividing into two every 15 minutes. Says Sagan: That means four doublings an hour, and 96 doublings a day. Although a bacterium weighs only about a trillionth of a gram, its descendants, after a day of wild asexual abandon, will collectively weigh as much as a mountain...in two days, more than the sun - and before very long, everything in the universe will be made of bacteria. Not to worry, says Sagan: Some obstacle always impedes this kind of exponential growth. The bugs run out of food, or they poison each other, or they are shy about reproducing in public. Even on bad days, Charlie Munger (Berkshire's Vice Chairman and my partner) and I do not think of Berkshire as a bacterium. Nor, to our unending sorrow, have we found a way to double its net worth every 15 minutes. Furthermore, we are not the least bit shy about reproducing - financially - in public. Nevertheless, Sagan's observations apply. From Berkshire's present base of $4.9 billion in net worth, we will find it much more difficult to average 15% annual growth in book value than we did to average 23.8% from the $22 million we began with. Taxes  Our 1989 gain of $1.5 billion was achieved after we took a charge of about $712 million for income taxes. In addition, Berkshire's share of the income taxes paid by its five major investees totaled about $175 million. Of this year's tax charge, about $172 million will be paid currently; the remainder, $540 million, is deferred. Almost all of the deferred portion relates to the 1989 increase in unrealized profits in our common stock holdings. Against this increase, we have reserved a 34% tax. We also carry reserves at that rate against all unrealized profits generated in 1987 and 1988. But, as we explained last year, the unrealized gains we amassed before 1987 - about $1.2 billion - carry reserves booked at the 28% tax rate that then prevailed. A new accounting rule is likely to be adopted that will require companies to reserve against all gains at the current tax rate, whatever it may be. With the rate at 34%, such a rule would increase our deferred tax liability, and decrease our net worth, by about $71 million - the result of raising the reserve on our pre-1987 gain by six percentage points. Because the proposed rule has sparked widespread controversy and its final form is unclear, we have not yet made this change. As you can see from our balance sheet on page 27, we would owe taxes of more than $1.1 billion were we to sell all of our securities at year-end market values. Is this $1.1 billion  liability equal, or even similar, to a $1.1 billion liability payable to a trade creditor 15 days after the end of the year? Obviously not - despite the fact that both items have exactly the same effect on audited net worth, reducing it by $1.1 billion. On the other hand, is this liability for deferred taxes a meaningless accounting fiction because its payment can be triggered only by the sale of stocks that, in very large part, we have no intention of selling? Again, the answer is no. In economic terms, the liability resembles an interest-free loan from the U.S. Treasury that comes due only at our election (unless, of course, Congress moves to tax gains before they are realized). This loan is peculiar in other respects as well: It can be used only to finance the ownership of the particular, appreciated stocks and it fluctuates in size - daily as market prices change and periodically if tax rates change. In effect, this deferred tax liability is equivalent to a very large transfer tax that is payable only if we elect to move from one asset to another. Indeed, we sold some relatively small holdings in 1989, incurring about $76 million of transfer tax on $224 million of gains. Because of the way the tax law works, the Rip Van Winkle style of investing that we favor - if successful - has an important mathematical edge over a more frenzied approach. Let's look at an extreme comparison. Imagine that Berkshire had only $1, which we put in a security that doubled by yearend and was then sold. Imagine further that we used the after-tax proceeds to repeat this process in each of the next 19 years, scoring a double each time. At the end of the 20 years, the 34% capital gains tax that we would have paid on the profits from each sale would have delivered about $13,000 to the government and we would be left with about $25,250. Not bad. If, however, we made a single fantastic investment that itself   doubled 20 times during the 20 years, our dollar would grow to $1,048,576. Were we then to cash out, we would pay a 34% tax of roughly $356,500 and be left with about $692,000. The sole reason for this staggering difference in results would be the timing of tax payments. Interestingly, the government would gain from Scenario 2 in exactly the same 27:1 ratio as we - taking in taxes of $356,500 vs. $13,000 - though, admittedly, it would have to wait for its money. We have not, we should stress, adopted our strategy favoring long-term investment commitments because of these mathematics. Indeed, it is possible we could earn greater after- tax returns by moving rather frequently from one investment to another. Many years ago, that's exactly what Charlie and I did. Now we would rather stay put, even if that means slightly lower returns. Our reason is simple: We have found splendid business relationships to be so rare and so enjoyable that we want to retain all we develop. This decision is particularly  easy for us because we feel that these relationships will produce good - though perhaps not optimal - financial results. Considering that, we think it makes little sense for us to give up time with people we know to be interesting and admirable for time with others we do not know and who are likely to have human qualities far closer to average. That would be akin to marrying for money - a mistake under most circumstances, insanity if one is already rich. Sources of Reported Earnings  The table below shows the major sources of Berkshire's reported earnings. In this presentation, amortization of Goodwill and other major purchase-price accounting adjustments are not charged against the specific businesses to which they apply, but are instead aggregated and shown separately. This procedure lets you view the earnings of our businesses as they would have been reported had we not purchased them. I've explained in past reports why this form of presentation seems to us to be more useful to investors and managers than one utilizing generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), which require purchase- price adjustments to be made on a business-by-business basis. The total net earnings we show in the table are, of course, identical to the GAAP total in our audited financial statements. Further information about these businesses is given in the Business Segment section on pages 37-39, and in the Management's Discussion section on pages 40-44. In these sections you also will find our segment earnings reported on a GAAP basis. For information on Wesco's businesses, I urge you to read Charlie Munger's letter, which starts on page 54. In addition, we have reprinted on page 71 Charlie's May 30, 1989 letter to the U. S. League of Savings Institutions, which conveyed our disgust with its policies and our consequent decision to resign. (000s omitted) ---------------------------------------------- Berkshire's Share of Net Earnings (after taxes and Pre-Tax Earnings minority interests) ---------------------- ---------------------- 1989 1988 1989 1988  ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- Operating Earnings: Insurance Group: Underwriting ............ $(24,400) $(11,081) $(12,259) $ (1,045) Net Investment Income ... 243,599 231,250 213,642 197,779 Buffalo News .............. 46,047 42,429 27,771 25,462 Fechheimer ................ 12,621 14,152 6,789 7,720 Kirby ..................... 26,114 26,891 16,803 17,842 Nebraska Furniture Mart ... 17,070 18,439 8,441 9,099 Scott Fetzer Manufacturing Group .... 33,165 28,542 19,996 17,640 See's Candies ............. 34,235 32,473 20,626 19,671 Wesco - other than Insurance 13,008 16,133 9,810 10,650
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