BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INC.
February 26, 1982 To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.: Operating earnings of $39.7 million in 1981 amounted to 15.2% of beginning equity capital (valuing securities at cost) compared to 17.8% in 1980. Our new plan that allows stockholders to designate corporate charitable contributions (detailed later) reduced earnings by about $900,000 in 1981. This program, which we expect to continue subject to annual evaluation of our corporate tax position, had not been initiated in 1980. Non-Controlled Ownership Earnings In the 1980 annual report we discussed extensively the concept of non-controlled ownership earnings, i.e., Berkshire’s share of the undistributed earnings of companies we don’t control or significantly influence but in which we, nevertheless, have important investments. (We will be glad to make available to new or prospective shareholders copies of that discussion or others from earlier reports to which we refer in this report.) No portion of those undistributed earnings is included in the operating earnings of Berkshire. However, our belief is that, in aggregate, those undistributed and, therefore, unrecorded earnings will be translated into tangible value for Berkshire shareholders just as surely as if subsidiaries we control had earned, retained - and reported - similar earnings. We know that this translation of non-controlled ownership earnings into corresponding realized and unrealized capital gains for Berkshire will be extremely irregular as to time of occurrence. While market values track business values quite well over long periods, in any given year the relationship can gyrate capriciously. Market recognition of retained earnings also will be unevenly realized among companies. It will be disappointingly low or negative in cases where earnings are employed non- productively, and far greater than dollar-for-dollar of retained earnings in cases of companies that achieve high returns with their augmented capital. Overall, if a group of non-controlled companies is selected with reasonable skill, the group result should be quite satisfactory. In aggregate, our non-controlled business interests have more favorable underlying economic characteristics than our controlled businesses. That’s understandable; the area of choice has been far wider. Small portions of exceptionally good businesses are usually available in the securities markets at reasonable prices. But such businesses are available for purchase in their entirety only rarely, and then almost always at high prices. General Acquisition Behavior As our history indicates, we are comfortable both with total ownership of businesses and with marketable securities representing small portions of businesses. We continually look for ways to employ large sums in each area. (But we try to avoid small commitments - “If something’s not worth doing at all, it’s not worth doing well”.) Indeed, the liquidity requirements of our insurance and trading stamp businesses mandate major investments in marketable securities. Our acquisition decisions will be aimed at maximizing real economic benefits, not at maximizing either managerial domain or reported numbers for accounting purposes. (In the long run, managements stressing accounting appearance over economic substance usually achieve little of either.) Regardless of the impact upon immediately reportable earnings, we would rather buy 10% of Wonderful Business T at X per share than 100% of T at 2X per share. Most corporate managers prefer just the reverse, and have no shortage of stated rationales for their behavior. However, we suspect three motivations - usually unspoken - to be, singly or in combination, the important ones in most high- premium takeovers: (1) Leaders, business or otherwise, seldom are deficient in animal spirits and often relish increased activity and challenge. At Berkshire, the corporate pulse never beats faster than when an acquisition is in prospect. (2) Most organizations, business or otherwise, measure themselves, are measured by others, and compensate their managers far more by the yardstick of size than by any other yardstick. (Ask a Fortune 500 manager where his corporation stands on that famous list and, invariably, the number responded will be from the list ranked by size of sales; he may well not even know where his corporation places on the list Fortune just as faithfully compiles ranking the same 500 corporations by profitability.) (3) Many managements apparently were overexposed in impressionable childhood years to the story in which the imprisoned handsome prince is released from a toad’s body by a kiss from a beautiful princess. Consequently, they are certain their managerial kiss will do wonders for the profitability of Company T(arget). Such optimism is essential. Absent that rosy view, why else should the shareholders of Company A(cquisitor) want to own an interest in T at the 2X takeover cost rather than at the X market price they would pay if they made direct purchases on their own? In other words, investors can always buy toads at the going price for toads. If investors instead bankroll princesses who wish to pay double for the right to kiss the toad, those kisses had better pack some real dynamite. We’ve observed many kisses but very few miracles. Nevertheless, many managerial princesses remain serenely confident about the future potency of their kisses - even after their corporate backyards are knee-deep in unresponsive toads. In fairness, we should acknowledge that some acquisition records have been dazzling. Two major categories stand out. The first involves companies that, through design or accident, have purchased only businesses that are particularly well adapted to an inflationary environment. Such favored business must have two characteristics: (1) an ability to increase prices rather easily (even when product demand is flat and capacity is not fully utilized) without fear of significant loss of either market share or unit volume, and (2) an ability to accommodate large dollar volume increases in business (often produced more by inflation than by real growth) with only minor additional investment of capital. Managers of ordinary ability, focusing solely on acquisition possibilities meeting these tests, have achieved excellent results in recent decades. However, very few enterprises possess both characteristics, and competition to buy those that do has now become fierce to the point of being self-defeating. The second category involves the managerial superstars - men who can recognize that rare prince who is disguised as a toad, and who have managerial abilities that enable them to peel away the disguise. We salute such managers as Ben Heineman at Northwest Industries, Henry Singleton at Teledyne, Erwin Zaban at National Service Industries, and especially Tom Murphy at Capital Cities Communications (a real managerial “twofer”, whose acquisition efforts have been properly focused in Category 1 and whose operating talents also make him a leader of Category 2). From both direct and vicarious experience, we recognize the difficulty and rarity of these executives’ achievements. (So do they; these champs have made very few deals in recent years, and often have found repurchase of their own shares to be the most sensible employment of corporate capital.) Your Chairman, unfortunately, does not qualify for Category 2. And, despite a reasonably good understanding of the economic factors compelling concentration in Category 1, our actual acquisition activity in that category has been sporadic and inadequate. Our preaching was better than our performance. (We neglected the Noah principle: predicting rain doesn’t count, building arks does.) We have tried occasionally to buy toads at bargain prices with results that have been chronicled in past reports. Clearly our kisses fell flat. We have done well with a couple of princes - but they were princes when purchased. At least our kisses didn’t turn them into toads. And, finally, we have occasionally been quite successful in purchasing fractional interests in easily-identifiable princes at toad-like prices. Berkshire Acquisition Objectives We will continue to seek the acquisition of businesses in their entirety at prices that will make sense, even should the future of the acquired enterprise develop much along the lines of its past. We may very well pay a fairly fancy price for a Category 1 business if we are reasonably confident of what we are getting. But we will not normally pay a lot in any purchase for what we are supposed to bring to the party - for we find that we ordinarily don’t bring a lot. During 1981 we came quite close to a major purchase involving both a business and a manager we liked very much. However, the price finally demanded, considering alternative uses for the funds involved, would have left our owners worse off than before the purchase. The empire would have been larger, but the citizenry would have been poorer. Although we had no success in 1981, from time to time in the future we will be able to purchase 100% of businesses meeting our standards. Additionally, we expect an occasional offering of a major “non-voting partnership” as discussed under the Pinkerton’s heading on page 47 of this report. We welcome suggestions regarding such companies where we, as a substantial junior partner, can achieve good economic results while furthering the long-term objectives of present owners and managers. Currently, we find values most easily obtained through the open-market purchase of fractional positions in companies with excellent business franchises and competent, honest managements. We never expect to run these companies, but we do expect to profit from them. We expect that undistributed earnings from such companies will produce full value (subject to tax when realized) for Berkshire and its shareholders. If they don’t, we have made mistakes as to either: (1) the management we have elected to join; (2) the future economics of the business; or (3) the price we have paid. We have made plenty of such mistakes - both in the purchase of non-controlling and controlling interests in businesses. Category (2) miscalculations are the most common. Of course, it is necessary to dig deep into our history to find illustrations of such mistakes - sometimes as deep as two or three months back. For example, last year your Chairman volunteered his expert opinion on the rosy future of the aluminum business. Several minor adjustments to that opinion - now aggregating approximately 180 degrees - have since been required. For personal as well as more objective reasons, however, we generally have been able to correct such mistakes far more quickly in the case of non-controlled businesses (marketable securities) than in the case of controlled subsidiaries. Lack of control, in effect, often has turned out to be an economic plus. As we mentioned last year, the magnitude of our non-recorded “ownership” earnings has grown to the point where their total is greater than our reported operating earnings. We expect this situation will continue. In just four ownership positions in this category - GEICO Corporation, General Foods Corporation, R. J. Reynolds Industries, Inc. and The Washington Post Company - our share of undistributed and therefore unrecorded earnings probably will total well over $35 million in 1982. The accounting rules that entirely ignore these undistributed earnings diminish the utility of our annual return on equity calculation, or any other single year measure of economic performance. Long-Term Corporate Performance In measuring long-term economic performance, equities held by our insurance subsidiaries are valued at market subject to a charge reflecting the amount of taxes that would have to be paid if unrealized gains were actually realized. If we are correct in the premise stressed in the preceding section of this report, our unreported ownership earnings will find their way, irregularly but inevitably, into our net worth. To date, this has been the case. An even purer calculation of performance would involve a valuation of bonds and non-insurance held equities at market. However, GAAP accounting does not prescribe this procedure, and the added purity would change results only very slightly. Should any valuation difference widen to significant proportions, as it has at most major insurance companies, we will report its effect to you. On a GAAP basis, during the present management’s term of seventeen years, book value has increased from $19.46 per share to $526.02 per share, or 21.1% compounded annually. This rate of return number is highly likely to drift downward in future years. We hope, however, that it can be maintained significantly above the rate of return achieved by the average large American corporation. Over half of the large gain in Berkshire’s net worth during 1981 - it totaled $124 million, or about 31% - resulted from the market performance of a single investment, GEICO Corporation. In aggregate, our market gain from securities during the year considerably outstripped the gain in underlying business values. Such market variations will not always be on the pleasant side. In past reports we have explained how inflation has caused our apparently satisfactory long-term corporate performance to be illusory as a measure of true investment results for our owners. We applaud the efforts of Federal Reserve Chairman Volcker and note the currently more moderate increases in various price indices. Nevertheless, our views regarding long-term inflationary trends are as negative as ever. Like virginity, a stable price level seems capable of maintenance, but not of restoration. Despite the overriding importance of inflation in the investment equation, we will not punish you further with another full recital of our views; inflation itself will be punishment enough. (Copies of previous discussions are available for masochists.) But, because of the unrelenting destruction of currency values, our corporate efforts will continue to do a much better job of filling your wallet than of filling your stomach. Equity Value-Added An additional factor should further subdue any residual enthusiasm you may retain regarding our long-term rate of return. The economic case justifying equity investment is that, in aggregate, additional earnings above passive investment returns - interest on fixed-income securities - will be derived through the employment of managerial and entrepreneurial skills in conjunction with that equity capital. Furthermore, the case says that since the equity capital position is associated with greater risk than passive forms of investment, it is “entitled” to higher returns. A “value-added” bonus from equity capital seems natural and certain. But is it? Several decades back, a return on equity of as little as 10% enabled a corporation to be classified as a “good” business - i.e., one in which a dollar reinvested in the business logically could be expected to be valued by the market at more than one hundred cents. For, with long-term taxable bonds yielding 5% and long-term tax-exempt bonds 3%, a business operation that could utilize equity capital at 10% clearly was worth some premium to investors over the equity capital employed. That was true even though a combination of taxes on dividends and on capital gains would reduce the 10% earned by the corporation to perhaps 6%-8% in the hands of the individual investor. Investment markets recognized this truth. During that earlier period, American business earned an average of 11% or so on equity capital employed and stocks, in aggregate, sold at valuations far above that equity capital (book value), averaging over 150 cents on the dollar. Most businesses were “good” businesses because they earned far more than their keep (the return on long-term passive money). The value-added produced by equity investment, in aggregate, was substantial. That day is gone. But the lessons learned during its existence are difficult to discard. While investors and managers must place their feet in the future, their memories and nervous systems often remain plugged into the past. It is much easier for investors to utilize historic p/e ratios or for managers to utilize historic business valuation yardsticks than it is for either group to rethink their premises daily. When change is slow, constant rethinking is actually undesirable; it achieves little and slows response time. But when change is great, yesterday’s assumptions can be retained only at great cost. And the pace of economic change has become breathtaking. During the past year, long-term taxable bond yields exceeded 16% and long-term tax-exempts 14%. The total return achieved from such tax-exempts, of course, goes directly into the pocket of the individual owner. Meanwhile, American business is producing earnings of only about 14% on equity. And this 14% will be substantially reduced by taxation before it can be banked by the individual owner. The extent of such shrinkage depends upon the dividend policy of the corporation and the tax rates applicable to the investor. Thus, with interest rates on passive investments at late 1981 levels, a typical American business is no longer worth one hundred cents on the dollar to owners who are individuals. (If the business is owned by pension funds or other tax-exempt investors, the arithmetic, although still unenticing, changes substantially for the better.) Assume an investor in a 50% tax bracket; if our typical company pays out all earnings, the income return to the investor will be equivalent to that from a 7% tax- exempt bond. And, if conditions persist - if all earnings are paid out and return on equity stays at 14% - the 7% tax-exempt equivalent to the higher-bracket individual investor is just as frozen as is the coupon on a tax-exempt bond. Such a perpetual 7% tax-exempt bond might be worth fifty cents on the dollar as this is written. If, on the other hand, all earnings of our typical American business are retained and return on equity again remains constant, earnings will grow at 14% per year. If the p/e ratio remains constant, the price of our typical stock will also grow at 14% per year. But that 14% is not yet in the pocket of the shareholder. Putting it there will require the payment of a capital gains tax, presently assessed at a maximum rate of 20%. This net return, of course, works out to a poorer rate of return than the currently available passive after-tax rate. Unless passive rates fall, companies achieving 14% per year gains in earnings per share while paying no cash dividend are an economic failure for their individual shareholders. The returns from passive capital outstrip the returns from active capital. This is an unpleasant fact for both investors and corporate managers and, therefore, one they may wish to ignore. But facts do not cease to exist, either because they are unpleasant or because they are ignored. Most American businesses pay out a significant portion of their earnings and thus fall between the two examples. And most American businesses are currently “bad” businesses economically - producing less for their individual investors after-tax than the tax-exempt passive rate of return on money. Of course, some high-return businesses still remain attractive, even under present conditions. But American equity capital, in aggregate, produces no value-added for individual investors. It should be stressed that this depressing situation does not occur because corporations are jumping, economically, less high than previously. In fact, they are jumping somewhat higher: return on equity has improved a few points in the past decade. But the crossbar of passive return has been elevated much faster. Unhappily, most companies can do little but hope that the bar will be lowered significantly; there are few industries in which the prospects seem bright for substantial gains in return on equity. Inflationary experience and expectations will be major (but not the only) factors affecting the height of the crossbar in future years. If the causes of long-term inflation can be tempered, passive returns are likely to fall and the intrinsic position of American equity capital should significantly improve. Many businesses that now must be classified as economically “bad” would be restored to the “good” category under such circumstances. A further, particularly ironic, punishment is inflicted by an inflationary environment upon the owners of the “bad” business. To continue operating in its present mode, such a low- return business usually must retain much of its earnings - no matter what penalty such a policy produces for shareholders. Reason, of course, would prescribe just the opposite policy. An individual, stuck with a 5% bond with many years to run before maturity, does not take the coupons from that bond and pay one hundred cents on the dollar for more 5% bonds while similar bonds are available at, say, forty cents on the dollar. Instead, he takes those coupons from his low-return bond and - if inclined to reinvest - looks for the highest return with safety currently available. Good money is not thrown after bad. What makes sense for the bondholder makes sense for the shareholder. Logically, a company with historic and prospective high returns on equity should retain much or all of its earnings so that shareholders can earn premium returns on enhanced capital. Conversely, low returns on corporate equity would suggest a very high dividend payout so that owners could direct capital toward more attractive areas. (The Scriptures concur. In the parable of the talents, the two high-earning servants are rewarded with 100% retention of earnings and encouraged to expand their operations. However, the non-earning third servant is not only chastised - “wicked and slothful” - but also is required to redirect all of his capital to the top performer. Matthew 25: 14-30) But inflation takes us through the looking glass into the upside-down world of Alice in Wonderland. When prices continuously rise, the “bad” business must retain every nickel that it can. Not because it is attractive as a repository for equity capital, but precisely because it is so unattractive, the low-return business must follow a high retention policy. If it wishes to continue operating in the future as it has in the past - and most entities, including businesses, do - it simply has no choice. For inflation acts as a gigantic corporate tapeworm. That tapeworm preemptively consumes its requisite daily diet of investment dollars regardless of the health of the host organism. Whatever the level of reported profits (even if nil), more dollars for receivables, inventory and fixed assets are continuously required by the business in order to merely match the unit volume of the previous year. The less prosperous the enterprise, the greater the proportion of available sustenance claimed by the tapeworm. Under present conditions, a business earning 8% or 10% on equity often has no leftovers for expansion, debt reduction or “real” dividends. The tapeworm of inflation simply cleans the plate. (The low-return company’s inability to pay dividends, understandably, is often disguised. Corporate America increasingly is turning to dividend reinvestment plans, sometimes even embodying a discount arrangement that all but forces shareholders to reinvest. Other companies sell newly issued shares to Peter in order to pay dividends to Paul. Beware of “dividends” that can be paid out only if someone promises to replace the capital distributed.) Berkshire continues to retain its earnings for offensive, not defensive or obligatory, reasons. But in no way are we immune from the pressures that escalating passive returns exert on equity capital. We continue to clear the crossbar of after- tax passive return - but barely. Our historic 21% return - not at all assured for the future - still provides, after the current capital gain tax rate (which we expect to rise considerably in future years), a modest margin over current after-tax rates on passive money. It would be a bit humiliating to have our corporate value-added turn negative. But it can happen here as it has elsewhere, either from events outside anyone’s control or from poor relative adaptation on our part. Sources of Reported Earnings The table below shows the sources of Berkshire’s reported earnings. Berkshire owns about 60% of Blue Chip Stamps which, in turn, owns 80% of Wesco Financial Corporation. The table displays aggregate operating earnings of the various business entities, as well as Berkshire’s share of those earnings. All of the significant gains and losses attributable to unusual sales of assets by any of the business entities are aggregated with securities transactions in the line near the bottom of the table and are not included in operating earnings. Net Earnings Earnings Before Income Taxes After Tax -------------------------------------- ------------------ Total Berkshire Share Berkshire Share ------------------ ------------------ ------------------ 1981 1980 1981 1980 1981 1980 -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- (000s omitted) Operating Earnings: Insurance Group: Underwriting ............ $ 1,478 $ 6,738 $ 1,478 $ 6,737 $ 798 $ 3,637 Net Investment Income ... 38,823 30,939 38,823 30,927 32,401 25,607 Berkshire-Waumbec Textiles (2,669) (508) (2,669) (508) (1,493) 202 Associated Retail Stores .. 1,763 2,440 1,763 2,440 759 1,169 See’s Candies ............. 21,891 15,475 13,046 9,223 6,289 4,459 Buffalo Evening News ...... (1,057) (2,777) (630) (1,655) (276) (800) Blue Chip Stamps - Parent 3,642 7,699 2,171 4,588 2,134 3,060 Wesco Financial - Parent .. 4,495 2,916 2,145 1,392 1,590 1,044 Mutual Savings and Loan ... 1,605 5,814 766 2,775 1,536 1,974 Precision Steel ........... 3,453 2,833 1,648 1,352 841 656 Interest on Debt .......... (14,656) (12,230) (12,649) (9,390) (6,671) (4,809) Other* .................... 1,895 1,698 1,344 1,308 1,513 992 -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- Sub-total - Continuing Operations ............. $ 60,663 $ 61,037 $ 47,236 $ 49,189 $ 39,421 $ 37,191 Illinois National Bank** .. -- 5,324 -- 5,200 -- 4,731 -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- Operating Earnings .......... 60,663 66,361 47,236 54,389 39,421 41,922 Sales of securities and unusual sales of assets .. 37,801 19,584 33,150 15,757 23,183 11,200 -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- Total Earnings - all entities $ 98,464 $ 85,945 $ 80,386 $ 70,146 $ 62,604 $ 53,122 ======== ======== ======== ======== ======== ======== *Amortization of intangibles arising in accounting for purchases of businesses (i.e. See’s, Mutual and Buffalo Evening News) is reflected in the category designated as “Other”. **Berkshire divested itself of its ownership of the Illinois National Bank on December 31, 1980. Blue Chip Stamps and Wesco are public companies with reporting requirements of their own. On pages 38-50 of this report we have reproduced the narrative reports of the principal executives of both companies, in which they describe 1981 operations. A copy of the full annual report of either company will be mailed to any Berkshire shareholder upon request to Mr. Robert H. Bird for Blue Chip Stamps, 5801 South Eastern Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90040, or to Mrs. Jeanne Leach for Wesco Financial Corporation, 315 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, California 91109. As we indicated earlier, undistributed earnings in companies we do not control are now fully as important as the reported operating earnings detailed in the preceding table. The distributed portion of earnings, of course, finds its way into the table primarily through the net investment income segment of Insurance Group earnings. We show below Berkshire’s proportional holdings in those non-controlled businesses for which only distributed earnings (dividends) are included in our earnings. No. of Shares Cost Market ------------- ---------- ---------- (000s omitted) 451,650 (a) Affiliated Publications, Inc. ........ $ 3,297 $ 14,114 703,634 (a) Aluminum Company of America .......... 19,359 18,031 420,441 (a) Arcata Corporation (including common equivalents) ..... 14,076 15,136 475,217 (b) Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company ........ 12,942 14,362 441,522 (a) GATX Corporation ..................... 17,147 13,466 2,101,244 (b) General Foods, Inc. .................. 66,277 66,714 7,200,000 (a) GEICO Corporation .................... 47,138 199,800 2,015,000 (a) Handy & Harman ....................... 21,825 36,270 711,180 (a) Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc. 4,531 23,202 282,500 (a) Media General ........................ 4,545 11,088 391,400 (a) Ogilvy & Mather International Inc. ... 3,709 12,329 370,088 (b) Pinkerton’s, Inc. .................... 12,144 19,675 1,764,824 (b) R. J. Reynolds Industries, Inc. ...... 76,668 83,127 785,225 (b) SAFECO Corporation ................... 21,329 31,016 1,868,600 (a) The Washington Post Company .......... 10,628 58,160 ---------- ---------- $335,615 $616,490 All Other Common Stockholdings ...................... 16,131 22,739 ---------- ---------- Total Common Stocks ................................. $351,746 $639,229 ========== ========== (a) All owned by Berkshire or its insurance subsidiaries. (b) Blue Chip and/or Wesco own shares of these companies. All numbers represent Berkshire’s net interest in the larger gross holdings of the group. Our controlled and non-controlled businesses operate over such a wide spectrum of activities that detailed commentary here would prove too lengthy. Much additional financial information is included in Management’s Discussion on pages 34-37 and in the narrative reports on pages 38-50. However, our largest area of both controlled and non-controlled activity has been, and almost certainly will continue to be, the property-casualty insurance area, and commentary on important developments in that industry is appropriate. Insurance Industry Conditions “Forecasts”, said Sam Goldwyn, “are dangerous, particularly those about the future.” (Berkshire shareholders may have reached a similar conclusion after rereading our past annual reports featuring your Chairman’s prescient analysis of textile prospects.) There is no danger, however, in forecasting that 1982 will be the worst year in recent history for insurance underwriting. That result already has been guaranteed by present pricing behavior, coupled with the term nature of the insurance contract. While many auto policies are priced and sold at six-month intervals - and many property policies are sold for a three-year term - a weighted average of the duration of all property- casualty insurance policies probably runs a little under twelve months. And prices for the insurance coverage, of course, are frozen for the life of the contract. Thus, this year’s sales contracts (“premium written” in the parlance of the industry) determine about one-half of next year’s level of revenue (“premiums earned”). The remaining half will be determined by sales contracts written next year that will be about 50% earned in that year. The profitability consequences are automatic: if you make a mistake in pricing, you have to live with it for an uncomfortable period of time. Note in the table below the year-over-year gain in industry- wide premiums written and the impact that it has on the current and following year’s level of underwriting profitability. The result is exactly as you would expect in an inflationary world. When the volume gain is well up in double digits, it bodes well for profitability trends in the current and following year. When the industry volume gain is small, underwriting experience very shortly will get worse, no matter how unsatisfactory the current level. The Best’s data in the table reflect the experience of practically the entire industry, including stock, mutual and reciprocal companies. The combined ratio indicates total operating and loss costs as compared to premiums; a ratio below 100 indicates an underwriting profit, and one above 100 indicates a loss. Yearly Change Yearly Change Combined Ratio in Premium in Premium after Policy- Written (%) Earned (%) holder Dividends ------------- ------------- ---------------- 1972 ............... 10.2 10.9 96.2 1973 ............... 8.0 8.8 99.2 1974 ............... 6.2 6.9 105.4 1975 ............... 11.0 9.6 107.9 1976 ............... 21.9 19.4 102.4 1977 ............... 19.8 20.5 97.2 1978 ............... 12.8 14.3 97.5 1979 ............... 10.3 10.4 100.6 1980 ............... 6.0 7.8 103.1 1981 ............... 3.6 4.1 105.7 Source: Best’s Aggregates and Averages. As Pogo would say, “The future isn’t what it used to be.” Current pricing practices promise devastating results, particularly if the respite from major natural disasters that the industry has enjoyed in recent years should end. For underwriting experience has been getting worse in spite of good luck, not because of bad luck. In recent years hurricanes have stayed at sea and motorists have reduced their driving. They won’t always be so obliging. And, of course the twin inflations, monetary and “social” (the tendency of courts and juries to stretch the coverage of policies beyond what insurers, relying upon contract terminology and precedent, had expected), are unstoppable. Costs of repairing both property and people - and the extent to which these repairs are deemed to be the responsibility of the insurer - will advance relentlessly. Absent any bad luck (catastrophes, increased driving, etc.), an immediate industry volume gain of at least 10% per year probably is necessary to stabilize the record level of underwriting losses that will automatically prevail in mid-1982. (Most underwriters expect incurred losses in aggregate to rise at least 10% annually; each, of course, counts on getting less than his share.) Every percentage point of annual premium growth below the 10% equilibrium figure quickens the pace of deterioration. Quarterly data in 1981 underscore the conclusion that a terrible underwriting picture is worsening at an accelerating rate. In the 1980 annual report we discussed the investment policies that have destroyed the integrity of many insurers’ balance sheets, forcing them to abandon underwriting discipline and write business at any price in order to avoid negative cash flow. It was clear that insurers with large holdings of bonds valued, for accounting purposes, at nonsensically high prices would have little choice but to keep the money revolving by selling large numbers of policies at nonsensically low prices. Such insurers necessarily fear a major decrease in volume more than they fear a major underwriting loss. But, unfortunately, all insurers are affected; it’s difficult to price much differently than your most threatened competitor. This pressure continues unabated and adds a new motivation to the others that drive many insurance managers to push for business; worship of size over profitability, and the fear that market share surrendered never can be regained. Whatever the reasons, we believe it is true that virtually no major property-casualty insurer - despite protests by the entire industry that rates are inadequate and great selectivity should be exercised - has been willing to turn down business to the point where cash flow has turned significantly negative. Absent such a willingness, prices will remain under severe pressure. Commentators continue to talk of the underwriting cycle, usually implying a regularity of rhythm and a relatively constant midpoint of profitability Our own view is different. We believe that very large, although obviously varying, underwriting losses will be the norm for the industry, and that the best underwriting years in the future decade may appear substandard against the average year of the past decade. We have no magic formula to insulate our controlled insurance companies against this deteriorating future. Our managers, particularly Phil Liesche, Bill Lyons, Roland Miller, Floyd Taylor and Milt Thornton, have done a magnificent job of swimming against the tide. We have sacrificed much volume, but have maintained a substantial underwriting superiority in relation to industry-wide results. The outlook at Berkshire is for continued low volume. Our financial position offers us maximum flexibility, a very rare condition in the property- casualty insurance industry. And, at some point, should fear ever prevail throughout the industry, our financial strength could become an operational asset of immense value. We believe that GEICO Corporation, our major non-controlled business operating in this field, is, by virtue of its extreme and improving operating efficiency, in a considerably more protected position than almost any other major insurer. GEICO is a brilliantly run implementation of a very important business idea. Shareholder Designated Contributions Our new program enabling shareholders to designate the recipients of corporate charitable contributions was greeted with extraordinary enthusiasm. A copy of the letter sent October 14, 1981 describing this program appears on pages 51-53. Of 932,206 shares eligible for participation (shares where the name of the actual owner appeared on our stockholder record), 95.6% responded. Even excluding Buffet-related shares, the response topped 90%. In addition, more than 3% of our shareholders voluntarily wrote letters or notes, all but one approving of the program. Both the level of participation and of commentary surpass any shareholder response we have witnessed, even when such response has been intensively solicited by corporate staff and highly paid professional proxy organizations. In contrast, your extraordinary level of response occurred without even the nudge of a company-provided return envelope. This self-propelled behavior speaks well for the program, and speaks well for our shareholders. Apparently the owners of our corporation like both possessing and exercising the ability to determine where gifts of their funds shall be made. The “father-knows-best” school of corporate governance will be surprised to find that none of our shareholders sent in a designation sheet with instructions that the officers of Berkshire - in their superior wisdom, of course - make the decision on charitable funds applicable to his shares. Nor did anyone suggest that his share of our charitable funds be used to match contributions made by our corporate directors to charities of the directors’ choice (a popular, proliferating and non-publicized policy at many large corporations). All told, $1,783,655 of shareholder-designed contributions were distributed to about 675 charities. In addition, Berkshire and subsidiaries continue to make certain contributions pursuant to local level decisions made by our operating managers. There will be some years, perhaps two or three out of ten, when contributions by Berkshire will produce substandard tax deductions - or none at all. In those years we will not effect our shareholder designated charitable program. In all other years we expect to inform you about October 10th of the amount per share that you may designate. A reply form will accompany the notice, and you will be given about three weeks to respond with your designation. To qualify, your shares must be registered in your own name or the name of an owning trust, corporation, partnership or estate, if applicable, on our stockholder list of September 30th, or the Friday preceding if such date falls on a Saturday or Sunday. Our only disappointment with this program in 1981 was that some of our shareholders, through no fault of their own, missed the opportunity to participate. The Treasury Department ruling allowing us to proceed without tax uncertainty was received early in October. The ruling did not cover participation by shareholders whose stock was registered in the name of nominees, such as brokers, and additionally required that the owners of all designating shares make certain assurances to Berkshire. These assurances could not be given us in effective form by nominee holders. Under these circumstances, we attempted to communicate with all of our owners promptly (via the October 14th letter) so that, if they wished, they could prepare themselves to participate by the November 13th record date. It was particularly important that this information be communicated promptly to stockholders whose holdings were in nominee name, since they would not be eligible unless they took action to re-register their shares before the record date. Unfortunately, communication to such non-record shareholders could take place only through the nominees. We therefore strongly urged those nominees, mostly brokerage houses, to promptly transmit our letter to the real owners. We explained that their failure to do so could deprive such owners of an important benefit. The results from our urgings would not strengthen the case for private ownership of the U.S. Postal Service. Many of our shareholders never heard from their brokers (as some shareholders told us after reading news accounts of the program). Others were forwarded our letter too late for action. One of the largest brokerage houses claiming to hold stock for sixty of its clients (about 4% of our shareholder population), apparently transmitted our letter about three weeks after receipt - too late for any of the sixty to participate. (Such lassitude did not pervade all departments of that firm; it billed Berkshire for mailing services within six days of that belated and ineffectual action.) We recite such horror stories for two reasons: (1) if you wish to participate in future designated contribution programs, be sure to have your stock registered in your name well before September 30th; and (2) even if you don’t care to participate and prefer to leave your stock in nominee form, it would be wise to have at least one share registered in your own name. By so doing, you can be sure that you will be notified of any important corporate news at the same time as all other shareholders. The designated-contributions idea, along with many other ideas that have turned out well for us, was conceived by Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire and Chairman of Blue Chip. Irrespective of titles, Charlie and I work as partners in managing all controlled companies. To almost a sinful degree, we enjoy our work as managing partners. And we enjoy having you as our financial partners. Warren E. Buffett Chairman of the Board