Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.A), coming off its worst year on record, said it has cut jobs at several of the enterprise's noninsurance businesses. Facing the same pains as many other U.S. companies, Berkshire said in its annual report that a handful of the 77 operating companies it controls reduced their workforce headcounts over the last 12 months, with many of those losses emanating from manufacturing holdings.
"Berkshire's operating companies have taken and will continue to take cost reduction actions in response to the current economic situation, including curtailing production, reducing capital expenditures, closing facilities and reducing employment to partially compensate for the declines in demand for goods and services," the company said in its annual report. Berkshire's insurance businesses were also not immune to the economic downturn, although the total number of employees in those companies slipped a mere 0.09% to 28,188. In his annual letter to shareholders, Buffett also warned that the economy would remain in "shambles" during 2009 and beyond, which raises concerns that several more of Berkshire's operating companies could face similar job cuts this year.
- Clayton Homes saw ones of the largest reductions, as the number of employees fell from 14,288 in the 2007 annual report to 11,998, a decline of 16%. Forest River, which manufactures recreation vehicles, saw its employee headcount fall 15.5% from 5,282 to 4,461. R.C. Willey Home Furnishings slashed 12.5% of its workforce from 2,841 employees to 2,486. Acme Building Brands, which produces bricks, cut its employee count by 8.5% from 2,521 to 2,307. Shaw Industries, the world's largest manufacturer of tufted broadloom carpets, dropped from 30,874 employees in the 2007 report to 28,974 in the latest release, a 6.2% decline. Paint manufacturer Benjamin Moore cut 6% of its staff from 2,625 workers to 2,467.
Berkshire joins a staggering list of U.S. companies that have made workforce cuts in order to slim down during harsh economic conditions. General Motors ( GM), Caterpillar ( CAT), Boeing ( BA), Home Depot ( HD) and Ford ( F), just to name a few, have all slashed headcount totals in the last few months. The annual report also showed that Berkshire endured a 96% drop in its fourth-quarter profit, largely due to unrealized losses of $3.25 billion on investments and derivative contracts. Berkshire's book value -- assets minus liabilities -- declined 9.6% to $70,530 a share last year, only the second time book value has dropped under Buffett. The other instance was a 6.2% decrease in 2001.