Berkshire Earnings Up Sharply

Higher insurance premiums and investment gains lift the bottom line.
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Berkshire Hathaway's


third-quarter earnings rose almost 60% from a year ago thanks to investment gains and a 15.6% jump in premium volume in its Geico insurance company.

The Warren Buffett-controlled Berkshire earned $1.81 billion, or $1,176 a share, in the latest quarter compared with earnings of $1.14 billion, or $744 a share, last year. Excluding investment gains, the company earned $1.35 billion in the latest quarter compared with $977 million.

Revenue rose to $18.23 billion in the latest quarter compared with $10.60 billion last year, due to the acquisition of grocery distributor McLane Co., an operation Berkshire described as "very low margin" in the third-quarter earnings summary.

Higher earnings from insurance underwriting accounted for the better part of Berkshire's earnings improvement, as the segment went from a loss of $65 million last year to net income of $258 million in the latest quarter. Overall insurance revenue increased almost 8% to $5.96 billion, with Geico's premium revenue rising 18% to $2 billion.

Berkshire's float, which represents money thrown off by its insurance operations for investment, rose by $2.6 billion to $43.8 billion at quarter's end.

The company's shares closed Friday at $80,000 apiece, up from a low of about $62,000 in March (the shares' high price are a consequence of the company's explosive growth over nearly three decades and Buffett's refusal to split them).