The Oracle of Omaha says it was a decent year. A strong fourth quarter helped Warren Buffett¿s Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.A) log solid earnings growth for all of 2005, after hurricanes crimped third-quarter results at some of the holding company's insurance businesses. Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire also managed to outperform the S&P 500. Fourth-quarter earnings were $5.13 billion, or $3,330 a Class A share, up from $3.34 billion, or $2,171 a Class A share, a year before. Revenue jumped 27% to $25.37 billion from $20.03 billion. For all of 2005, earnings totaled $8.53 billion, or $5,538 a Class A share, up 17% from $7.31 billion, or $4,753 a Class A share, in 2004. Revenue increased almost 10%, to $81.66 billion from $74.38 billion. Berkshire Hathaway¿s net worth increased by $5.6 billion during the year, which increased the per-share book value of both its Class A and Class B shares by 6.4%. That beat the S&P 500¿s 4.9% return. ¿Berkshire had a decent year in 2005,¿ said Buffett, the company¿s chairman and CEO, in his annual
shareholder letter . ¿We initiated five acquisitions (two of which have yet to close) and most of our operating subsidiaries prospered. Even our insurance business in its entirety did well, though Hurricane Katrina inflicted record losses on both Berkshire and the industry. We estimate our loss from Katrina at $2.5 billion ¿ and her ugly sisters, Rita and Wilma, cost us an additional $0.9 billion.¿ Buffett credited auto insurer Geico for the parent company¿s ¿stellar¿ insurance results in a ¿disaster-ridden¿ year. ¿One statistic stands out,¿ he said. ¿In just two years, Geico improved its productivity by 32%. Remarkably, employment fell by 4% even as policy count grew by 26% -- and more gains are in store.¿ Buffett also attempted to comfort shareholders that his company would be in good hands if he, now 75, died or went into mental decline.
Although he declined to identify them by name, Buffett said Berkshire Hathaway has three managers ¿who are reasonably young and fully capable of being CEO. Any of the three would be much better at certain management aspects of my job than I.¿ None of those managers has Buffett's ¿crossover¿ experience, however, which allows him to make both business and investment decisions, he added. But ¿that problem will be solved by having another person in the organization handle marketable securities. That¿s an interesting job at Berkshire, and the new CEO will have no problem in hiring a talented individual to do it.¿ Buffett also said he was confident his company¿s board of directors would do the right thing for shareholders, even if that means wresting Berkshire¿s reins from him if he were to ¿decay, particularly if this decay is accompanied by my delusionally thinking that I am reaching new peaks of managerial brilliance.¿ Still, Buffett finished his discussion of management succession by quipping, ¿I feel terrific.¿