Warren Buffett's annual letter to investors: 15 biggest stock investments

02 March, 2018, 05:14 | Author: Martin Tyler
  • Berkshire Hathaway's 2017 Tax Reform Windfall Insurance Losses From Hurricanes Younger Executives Promoted

Warren Buffett explained in his annual shareholder letter, "I have regularly told you that I expect Berkshire to attain an underwriting profit in a majority of years, but also to experience losses from time to time".

Despite some "unusual" activity in some of Berkshire Hathaway's fixed income holdings over the last decade, Buffett said he wanted to acknowledge that "in any upcoming day, week or even year, stocks will be riskier - far riskier - than short-term United States bonds". But only $36 billion came from Berkshire's operations.

Book value per Class A share, which reflects assets minus liabilities and which Buffett considers a good yardstick for Berkshire's intrinsic worth, also benefited from the tax cut, rising 13% in the fourth quarter to $211,750.

He said the damage to Berkshire and other insurers could have been "far worse: Had Hurricane Irma followed a path through Florida only a bit to the east, insured losses might have well been an additional $100 billion".

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Buffett said he remains confident in Wells Fargo and Berkshire is the bank's largest stakeholder with about 10 percent of the bank's shares. He said the investment was made by one of his deputy stock pickers, and that he didn't know the reasons they made it. "Fuelled by retained earnings, Berkshire's growth in value was unlikely to be less than 8 per cent annually, even if we were to experience a so-so economy".

Berkshire Hathaway's retailing business posted a slight decline in revenues a year ago, thanks to a slowdown in auto dealership business, while its other retailing operations, including its home furnishings business combined for a slight gain.

Berkshire investment executive Todd Combs is "looking for the right CEO" to head the initiative that Berkshire is starting with Amazon and JPMorgan Chase, Buffett said.

Most CEOs, investment bankers and corporate directors seek purchases for the sake of fees and compensation, Buffett wrote. "The managers of our various insurance companies supply the brains and Berkshire provides the capital", he wrote. To Buffett, the answer is clear: "I don't believe in imposing my views on 370,000 employees and a million shareholders". Yet Berkshire shares have suffered four truly major dips.

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And he added that he was not going to overpay for acquisitions even as many companies are now on a feeding frenzy. "The question is whether we can come up with something better".

The report revealed that NICO had a pre-tax underwriting loss of $1.044 billion because of the three hurricanes in the USA, the Mexican earthquakes, Cyclone Debbie and the Californian wildfires.

Total retailing revenues were $15.06 billion for the year, down from $15.09 billion in 2016. The segment incurred estimated losses of approximately $2.4 billion in 2017 from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, an natural disaster in Mexico, a cyclone in Australia and wildfires in California. "Berkshire's goal is to substantially increase the earnings of its non-insurance group".

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