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Berkshire Hathaway Earnings: 1 Critical Thing You May Have Missed

The latest results from Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A  ) (NYSE: BRK-B  ) are in, and the second quarter delivered remarkable growth that grabbed headline attention. Yet one thing is critical for investors to see as they asses the true bottom line results of Warren Buffett's company.

Impressive growth
Things couldn't have been much better for Berkshire Hathaway in the second quarter.

A quick glance at its release reveals its bottom line net earnings available to shareholders stood at $6.4 billion, a staggering 41% gain over the $4.5 billion posted in the second quarter of 2013.

Total operating profit per share stood at $2,634, well above the $2,482 expected by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. In addition it also saw impressive top-line growth of 11% relative to the second quarter of last year, as its revenue came in at $49.8 billion.

Yet if you're anything like me, the 41% growth and nearly $2 billion gain in bottom line profits is absolutely stunning. But it turns out, that number really doesn't tell the whole story, and at first glance it's indeed deceiving.

A bit of a misnomer
In the second quarter Berkshire Hathaway completed a small -- if you can consider $1.1 billion small -- acquisition of WLPG, a television studio based in Miami from Graham Holdings Company (NYSE: GHC  ) . In the transaction Berkshire didn't pay cash, but instead swapped an equivalent value of the shares in Graham Holdings Company it owned.

This move allowed it to be considered a "tax-free reorganization," and therefore "no income taxes were provided on the excess of the fair value of the businesses received over the tax-basis cost of the common stock of ... Graham Holdings Company exchanged."

All of this is to say, it made sense from a tax perspective to make such a move.

But as a result of the exchange, Berkshire Hathaway recognized remarkable growth in its "investment and derivative gains/losses," which leapt from $622 million in the second quarter of last year to $2.1 billion in the most recent quarter.

In fact an exclusion of those gains shows the operating income -- which was highlighted in the earnings release, but easy to skip over -- is up 11%:


2Q 2013

2Q 2014

Change $

Change %

Insurance – underwriting





Insurance – investment income










Utilities and energy





Manufacturing, service and retailing





Finance and financial products















So does that mean Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway is attempting to use funny accounting quirks to make the results appear better than they actually are?

Of course not.

In the SEC filing discussing the second quarter, Berkshire notes plainly:

We believe the amount of investment gains/losses included in earnings in any given period typically has little analytical or predictive value.

In other words, while those are real gains from an accounting perspective, Buffett himself doesn't laud them as being a predictor of Berkshire's future success, and are just a necessary procedure.

The Foolish bottom line
The reality is the 11% gain in earnings at Berkshire is undeniably impressive. And the 22% dip in insurance underwriting profits came entirely from Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance, which often has sizable fluctuations in how its results are accounted for. So investors needn't be worried about that.

While the 41% gain is more impressive than 11%, investors should see this as another great quarter by Berkshire Hathaway, and one that provided no reason to think its immense success has any sign of slowing down.

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Patrick Morris

After a few stints in banking and corporate finance, Patrick joined the Motley Fool as a writer covering the financial sector. He's scaled back his everyday writing a bit, but he's always happy to opine on the latest headline news surrounding Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett and all things personal finance.

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Related Tickers

9/2/2015 1:08 PM
BRK-A $198800.01 Up +655.71 +0.33%
Berkshire Hathaway… CAPS Rating: ****
BRK-B $131.61 Up +1.20 +0.92%
Berkshire Hathaway CAPS Rating: *****
GHC $646.76 Up +3.02 +0.47%
Graham Holdings CAPS Rating: ***