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Like Buffett, Only Better

Editor's Note: Jon D. Markman writes a weekly column for CNBC on MSN Money that is republished here on TheStreet.com.


Oh, lords of the market, let this be the last straw. The last paean from the pious. The last time we must see simpering reporters, Rotarians and retirees blow kisses to a man once celebrated as the Oracle of Omaha but now best described as the Natterer of Nebraska.

Surely there was a time when Warren Buffett was a chief executive worth studying, and even investing alongside. But it sure seems like that time is long past, particularly in contrast to a couple of similar, but much better, conglomerateurs that I'll introduce you to in a moment.

Buffett released the fiscal 2005 earnings report of his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A), on Saturday, as well as an annual report and 22-page chairman's letter.

And when you get past all the juvenile humor, unseemly criticism of rivals, self-promotion and homilies, you are left with one impression: This is one heck of a way to disguise the fact that -- outside of an accounting gain -- earnings were down 29% in 2005 and shares turned in a fifth straight year of underwhelming performance in the only metric that investors truly care about: the advance of the price.

Did I say the stock price is all that matters? Gosh, that seems so craven. I am so sorry to bring it up. But that is what investors are paying him for, isn't it? To boost earnings in a way that encourages new buyers to be more aggressive than sellers, making the price go up?

That is why we buy most stocks. But Berkshire Hathaway is more a cult than a security.

Succession Procrastination

Just read the 2005 report, and you will see that it is largely filled with boasts that the chairman has goosed book value by slapping together an insurance, retail, media and construction conglomerate that looks more like something the cat dragged in than a streamlined earnings machine.

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