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25 February 2018, 01:58 | Gordon Grant
Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett plays bridge during the Berkshire annual meeting weekend in Omaha Nebraska
Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett said he expects the company's insurers will have to pay about $3 billion in claims related to the hurricanes that struck Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico last fall. He won that bet previous year.
Berkshire Hathawayreported a $65.3 billion increase in book value over 2017, boosted by a $29 billion gain from changes to the USA tax regime.
The company is sitting on that pile of cash while Buffett waits for an "elephant" - a big company - to buy.
With the exception of insurance, companies owned by Berkshire Hathaway increased their pre-tax profit by $950 million to $20 billion for the year, of which nearly half came from railway operator BNSF and Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
Buffett told investors that Berkshire Hathaway made a $65.3 billion net gain in 2017 - but "only $36 billion came from Berkshire's operations".
In his annual letter to shareholders Saturday, Buffett mixed investment advice with details of how Berkshire's many businesses performed. "The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the US Tax Code".
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Not so for Berkshire, Buffett said.
The "Oracle of Omaha's" famed annual letter to Berkshire shareholders has become a favourite in the investor calendar but it has attracted heightened interest this year amid rumours that the 87-year-old would unveil plans to step down.
Price proved to be the barrier to a new, big-time acquisition in 2017, Buffett said. "If Wall Street analysts or board members urge that brand of CEO to consider possible acquisitions, it's a bit like telling your ripening teenager to be sure to have a normal sex life". Operating profit, however, fell 18 percent to $14.46 billion, hurt by a rare loss from insurance underwriting.
For all of 2017, Berkshire net earnings rose to $44.9 billion from $24.1 billion the year before, but the bulk of the gains were from the one-time tax benefit.
Turning to investments, Berkshire's Apple holding was up to $28.2B at year-end, second only to Wells Fargo at $29.3B. Buffett challenged the asset manager to pick a group of hedge funds that it thought would beat an S&P 500 Index fund over 10 years.
Buffett said it is a "terrible mistake" for investors with long-term horizons - among them, pension funds, college and endowments and savings-minded individuals - to measure their investment "risk" by their portfolio's ratio of bonds to stocks.
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