Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway reported a nearly $40 billion profit in the fourth quarter, up more than 10% from the same period of 2020. Profits more than doubled for the full year, to just shy of $90 billion.
Operating earnings, Buffett’s preferred measure of profitability, soared 45% in the fourth quarter to $7.3 billion and rose 25% for the full year to about $27.5 billion.
The company added it bought back $6.9 billion worth of stock during the quarter, a move which also helped to boost its earnings per share.
Berkshire Hathaway released its latest results Saturday morning, along with Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders and details about its in-person shareholder meeting in Omaha at the end of April. Berkshire Hathaway said attendees must show proof of vaccination for Covid-19 to attend.
Berkshire is booming
In the letter, Buffett said 2021’s success was in large part due to its “four giants,” the company’s insurance operations, Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, its massive energy business and Berkshire’s nearly 5.6% stake in Apple (AAPL).
Apple is by far Berkshire’s largest holding and the stock enjoyed a total return (including dividends) of 35% last year. Buffett called Apple CEO Tim Cook “brilliant” in the letter.
Buffett said in the letter investors might be surprised to learn how much Berkshire depends on the American industrial economy for its success. Berkshire also owns Duracell batteries, Benjamin Moore paints, homebuilder Clayton and flooring company Shaw, for example.
“Many people perceive Berkshire as a large and somewhat strange collection of financial assets. In truth, Berkshire owns and operates more US-based ‘infrastructure’ assets – classified on our balance sheet as property, plant and equipment – than are owned and operated by any other American corporation,” Buffett wrote.
Buffett also pointed out Berkshire Hathaway paid $3.3 billion in federal income taxes last year as well as “substantial state and foreign taxes.”
“‘I gave at the office’ is an unassailable assertion when made by Berkshire shareholders,” Buffett joked.
Wall Street has rewarded Berkshire for its strong results. The company is now valued at nearly $715 billion, and its stock is not far from its all-time high. Berkshire is up 7% this year while the broader market has fallen, as investors have flocked to value stocks as safe havens.
Buffett has benefited handsomely as well. His net worth is about $115 billion, according to Forbes, making him the eighth-richest person on the planet.
Annual meeting is back in Nebraska
Berkshire has nearly $147 billion in cash and generates a big chunk of its profits from Geico and its other insurance businesses. Berkshire’s A shares (BRKA), which famously have not split, trade for nearly $480,000 apiece.
The class B shares (BRKB), which trade at a more affordable price of around $320, are in the S&P 500 (SPX) and are more widely held by average individual investors.
Many of those shareholders are expected to descend on Omaha during the last weekend of April for Berkshire’s first annual shareholder meeting with attendees since 2019.
The meeting will take place April 30. Berkshire said Saturday Buffett and fellow vice chairman Charlie Munger; Ajit Jain, who oversees the insurance operations; and Greg Abel, who oversees the conglomerate’s non-insurance businesses, will be there in person to answer questions.
The meeting will also be webcast on CNBC. Yahoo Finance had been the online home of the meeting previously.
The company’s 2020 annual meeting was virtual due to the pandemic while the 2021 meeting was held in Los Angeles in order to be closer to the home of longtime Buffett friend and business partner Munger, who is 98 and lives in Southern California.
Buffett announced after last year’s virtual shareholder meeting Abel will be his successor as CEO. But Buffett, who will turn 92 in August, has said nothing about any plans for his own retirement.