BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INC.
To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.: Our gain in net worth during 1988 was $569 million, or 20.0%. Over the last 24 years (that is, since present management took over), our per-share book value has grown from $19.46 to $2,974.52, or at a rate of 23.0% compounded annually. We’ve emphasized in past reports that what counts, however, is intrinsic business value - the figure, necessarily an estimate, indicating what all of our constituent businesses are worth. By our calculations, Berkshire’s intrinsic business value significantly exceeds its book value. Over the 24 years, business value has grown somewhat faster than book value; in 1988, however, book value grew the faster, by a bit. Berkshire’s past rates of gain in both book value and business value were achieved under circumstances far different from those that now exist. Anyone ignoring these differences makes the same mistake that a baseball manager would were he to judge the future prospects of a 42-year-old center fielder on the basis of his lifetime batting average. Important negatives affecting our prospects today are: (1) a less attractive stock market than generally existed over the past 24 years; (2) higher corporate tax rates on most forms of investment income; (3) a far more richly-priced market for the acquisition of businesses; and (4) industry conditions for Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., GEICO Corporation, and The Washington Post Company - Berkshire’s three permanent investments, constituting about one-half of our net worth - that range from slightly to materially less favorable than those existing five to ten years ago. All of these companies have superb management and strong properties. But, at current prices, their upside potential looks considerably less exciting to us today than it did some years ago. The major problem we face, however, is a growing capital base. You’ve heard that from us before, but this problem, like age, grows in significance each year. (And also, just as with age, it’s better to have this problem continue to grow rather than to have it “solved.”) Four years ago I told you that we needed profits of $3.9 billion to achieve a 15% annual return over the decade then ahead. Today, for the next decade, a 15% return demands profits of $10.3 billion. That seems like a very big number to me and to Charlie Munger, Berkshire’s Vice Chairman and my partner. (Should that number indeed prove too big, Charlie will find himself, in future reports, retrospectively identified as the senior partner.) As a partial offset to the drag that our growing capital base exerts upon returns, we have a very important advantage now that we lacked 24 years ago. Then, all our capital was tied up in a textile business with inescapably poor economic characteristics. Today part of our capital is invested in some really exceptional businesses. Last year we dubbed these operations the Sainted Seven: Buffalo News, Fechheimer, Kirby, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Scott Fetzer Manufacturing Group, See’s, and World Book. In 1988 the Saints came marching in. You can see just how extraordinary their returns on capital were by examining the historical-cost financial statements on page 45, which combine the figures of the Sainted Seven with those of several smaller units. With no benefit from financial leverage, this group earned about 67% on average equity capital. In most cases the remarkable performance of these units arises partially from an exceptional business franchise; in all cases an exceptional management is a vital factor. The contribution Charlie and I make is to leave these managers alone. In my judgment, these businesses, in aggregate, will continue to produce superb returns. We’ll need these: Without this help Berkshire would not have a chance of achieving our 15% goal. You can be sure that our operating managers will deliver; the question mark in our future is whether Charlie and I can effectively employ the funds that they generate. In that respect, we took a step in the right direction early in 1989 when we purchased an 80% interest in Borsheim’s, a jewelry business in Omaha. This purchase, described later in this letter, delivers exactly what we look for: an outstanding business run by people we like, admire, and trust. It’s a great way to start the year. Accounting Changes We have made a significant accounting change that was mandated for 1988, and likely will have another to make in 1990. When we move figures around from year to year, without any change in economic reality, one of our always-thrilling discussions of accounting is necessary. First, I’ll offer my customary disclaimer: Despite the shortcomings of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), I would hate to have the job of devising a better set of rules. The limitations of the existing set, however, need not be inhibiting: CEOs are free to treat GAAP statements as a beginning rather than an end to their obligation to inform owners and creditors - and indeed they should. After all, any manager of a subsidiary company would find himself in hot water if he reported barebones GAAP numbers that omitted key information needed by his boss, the parent corporation’s CEO. Why, then, should the CEO himself withhold information vitally useful to his bosses - the shareholder-owners of the corporation? What needs to be reported is data - whether GAAP, non-GAAP, or extra-GAAP - that helps financially-literate readers answer three key questions: (1) Approximately how much is this company worth? (2) What is the likelihood that it can meet its future obligations? and (3) How good a job are its managers doing, given the hand they have been dealt? In most cases, answers to one or more of these questions are somewhere between difficult and impossible to glean from the minimum GAAP presentation. The business world is simply too complex for a single set of rules to effectively describe economic reality for all enterprises, particularly those operating in a wide variety of businesses, such as Berkshire. Further complicating the problem is the fact that many managements view GAAP not as a standard to be met, but as an obstacle to overcome. Too often their accountants willingly assist them. (“How much,” says the client, “is two plus two?” Replies the cooperative accountant, “What number did you have in mind?”) Even honest and well-intentioned managements sometimes stretch GAAP a bit in order to present figures they think will more appropriately describe their performance. Both the smoothing of earnings and the “big bath” quarter are “white lie” techniques employed by otherwise upright managements. Then there are managers who actively use GAAP to deceive and defraud. They know that many investors and creditors accept GAAP results as gospel. So these charlatans interpret the rules “imaginatively” and record business transactions in ways that technically comply with GAAP but actually display an economic illusion to the world. As long as investors - including supposedly sophisticated institutions - place fancy valuations on reported “earnings” that march steadily upward, you can be sure that some managers and promoters will exploit GAAP to produce such numbers, no matter what the truth may be. Over the years, Charlie and I have observed many accounting-based frauds of staggering size. Few of the perpetrators have been punished; many have not even been censured. It has been far safer to steal large sums with a pen than small sums with a gun. Under one major change mandated by GAAP for 1988, we have been required to fully consolidate all our subsidiaries in our balance sheet and earnings statement. In the past, Mutual Savings and Loan, and Scott Fetzer Financial (a credit company that primarily finances installment sales of World Book and Kirby products) were consolidated on a “one-line” basis. That meant we (1) showed our equity in their combined net worths as a single- entry asset on Berkshire’s consolidated balance sheet and (2) included our equity in their combined annual earnings as a single-line income entry in our consolidated statement of earnings. Now the rules require that we consolidate each asset and liability of these companies in our balance sheet and each item of their income and expense in our earnings statement. This change underscores the need for companies also to report segmented data: The greater the number of economically diverse business operations lumped together in conventional financial statements, the less useful those presentations are and the less able investors are to answer the three questions posed earlier. Indeed, the only reason we ever prepare consolidated figures at Berkshire is to meet outside requirements. On the other hand, Charlie and I constantly study our segment data. Now that we are required to bundle more numbers in our GAAP statements, we have decided to publish additional supplementary information that we think will help you measure both business value and managerial performance. (Berkshire’s ability to discharge its obligations to creditors - the third question we listed - should be obvious, whatever statements you examine.) In these supplementary presentations, we will not necessarily follow GAAP procedures, or even corporate structure. Rather, we will attempt to lump major business activities in ways that aid analysis but do not swamp you with detail. Our goal is to give you important information in a form that we would wish to get it if our roles were reversed. On pages 41-47 we show separate combined balance sheets and earnings statements for: (1) our subsidiaries engaged in finance- type operations, which are Mutual Savings and Scott Fetzer Financial; (2) our insurance operations, with their major investment positions itemized; (3) our manufacturing, publishing and retailing businesses, leaving aside certain non-operating assets and purchase-price accounting adjustments; and (4) an all- other category that includes the non-operating assets (primarily marketable securities) held by the companies in (3) as well as various assets and debts of the Wesco and Berkshire parent companies. If you combine the earnings and the net worths of these four segments, you will derive totals matching those shown on our GAAP statements. However, we want to emphasize that our new presentation does not fall within the purview of our auditors, who in no way bless it. (In fact, they may be horrified; I don’t want to ask.) I referred earlier to a major change in GAAP that is expected in 1990. This change relates to the calculation of deferred taxes, and is both complicated and controversial - so much so that its imposition, originally scheduled for 1989, was postponed for a year. When implemented, the new rule will affect us in various ways. Most important, we will be required to change the way we calculate our liability for deferred taxes on the unrealized appreciation of stocks held by our insurance companies. Right now, our liability is layered. For the unrealized appreciation that dates back to 1986 and earlier years, $1.2 billion, we have booked a 28% tax liability. For the unrealized appreciation built up since, $600 million, the tax liability has been booked at 34%. The difference reflects the increase in tax rates that went into effect in 1987. It now appears, however, that the new accounting rule will require us to establish the entire liability at 34% in 1990, taking the charge against our earnings. Assuming no change in tax rates by 1990, this step will reduce our earnings in that year (and thereby our reported net worth) by $71 million. The proposed rule will also affect other items on our balance sheet, but these changes will have only a minor impact on earnings and net worth. We have no strong views about the desirability of this change in calculation of deferred taxes. We should point out, however, that neither a 28% nor a 34% tax liability precisely depicts economic reality at Berkshire since we have no plans to sell the stocks in which we have the great bulk of our gains. To those of you who are uninterested in accounting, I apologize for this dissertation. I realize that many of you do not pore over our figures, but instead hold Berkshire primarily because you know that: (1) Charlie and I have the bulk of our money in Berkshire; (2) we intend to run things so that your gains or losses are in direct proportion to ours; and (3) the record has so far been satisfactory. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this kind of “faith” approach to investing. Other shareholders, however, prefer an “analysis” approach and we want to supply the information they need. In our own investing, we search for situations in which both approaches give us the same answer. Sources of Reported Earnings In addition to supplying you with our new four-sector accounting material, we will continue to list the major sources of Berkshire’s reported earnings just as we have in the past. In the following table, amortization of Goodwill and other major purchase-price accounting adjustments are not charged against the specific businesses to which they apply but are instead aggregated and shown separately. This procedure lets you view the earnings of our businesses as they would have been reported had we not purchased them. I’ve explained in past reports why this form of presentation seems to us to be more useful to investors and managers than the standard GAAP presentation, which makes purchase-price adjustments on a business-by-business basis. The total net earnings we show in the table are, of course, identical to the GAAP total in our audited financial statements. Further information about these businesses is given in the Business Segment section on pages 32-34, and in the Management’s Discussion section on pages 36-40. In these sections you also will find our segment earnings reported on a GAAP basis. For information on Wesco’s businesses, I urge you to read Charlie Munger’s letter, which starts on page 52. It contains the best description I have seen of the events that produced the present savings-and-loan crisis. Also, take special note of Dave Hillstrom’s performance at Precision Steel Warehouse, a Wesco subsidiary. Precision operates in an extremely competitive industry, yet Dave consistently achieves good returns on invested capital. Though data is lacking to prove the point, I think it is likely that his performance, both in 1988 and years past, would rank him number one among his peers. (000s omitted) ------------------------------------------ Berkshire's Share of Net Earnings (after taxes and Pre-Tax Earnings minority interests) ------------------- ------------------- 1988 1987 1988 1987 -------- -------- -------- -------- Operating Earnings: Insurance Group: Underwriting ............... $(11,081) $(55,429) $ (1,045) $(20,696) Net Investment Income ...... 231,250 152,483 197,779 136,658 Buffalo News ................. 42,429 39,410 25,462 21,304 Fechheimer ................... 14,152 13,332 7,720 6,580 Kirby ........................ 26,891 22,408 17,842 12,891 Nebraska Furniture Mart ...... 18,439 16,837 9,099 7,554 Scott Fetzer Manufacturing Group ....... 28,542 30,591 17,640 17,555 See’s Candies ................ 32,473 31,693 19,671 17,363 Wesco - other than Insurance 16,133 6,209 10,650 4,978 World Book ................... 27,890 25,745 18,021 15,136 Amortization of Goodwill ..... (2,806) (2,862) (2,806) (2,862) Other Purchase-Price Accounting Charges ........ (6,342) (5,546) (7,340) (6,544) Interest on Debt* ............ (35,613) (11,474) (23,212) (5,905) Shareholder-Designated Contributions ............. (4,966) (4,938) (3,217) (2,963) Other ........................ 41,059 23,217 27,177 13,697 -------- -------- -------- -------- Operating Earnings ............. 418,450 281,676 313,441 214,746 Sales of Securities ............ 131,671 28,838 85,829 19,806 -------- -------- -------- -------- Total Earnings - All Entities .. $550,121 $310,514 $399,270 $234,552 *Excludes interest expense of Scott Fetzer Financial Group. The earnings achieved by our operating businesses are superb, whether measured on an absolute basis or against those of their competitors. For that we thank our operating managers: You and I are fortunate to be associated with them. At Berkshire, associations like these last a long time. We do not remove superstars from our lineup merely because they have attained a specified age - whether the traditional 65, or the 95 reached by Mrs. B on the eve of Hanukkah in 1988. Superb managers are too scarce a resource to be discarded simply because a cake gets crowded with candles. Moreover, our experience with newly-minted MBAs has not been that great. Their academic records always look terrific and the candidates always know just what to say; but too often they are short on personal commitment to the company and general business savvy. It’s difficult to teach a new dog old tricks. Here’s an update on our major non-insurance operations: o At Nebraska Furniture Mart, Mrs. B (Rose Blumkin) and her cart roll on and on. She’s been the boss for 51 years, having started the business at 44 with $500. (Think what she would have done with $1,000!) With Mrs. B, old age will always be ten years away. The Mart, long the largest home furnishings store in the country, continues to grow. In the fall, the store opened a detached 20,000 square foot Clearance Center, which expands our ability to offer bargains in all price ranges. Recently Dillard’s, one of the most successful department store operations in the country, entered the Omaha market. In many of its stores, Dillard’s runs a full furniture department, undoubtedly doing well in this line. Shortly before opening in Omaha, however, William Dillard, chairman of the company, announced that his new store would not sell furniture. Said he, referring to NFM: “We don’t want to compete with them. We think they are about the best there is.” At the Buffalo News we extol the value of advertising, and our policies at NFM prove that we practice what we preach. Over the past three years NFM has been the largest ROP advertiser in the Omaha World-Herald. (ROP advertising is the kind printed in the paper, as contrasted to the preprinted-insert kind.) In no other major market, to my knowledge, is a home furnishings operation the leading customer of the newspaper. At times, we also run large ads in papers as far away as Des Moines, Sioux City and Kansas City - always with good results. It truly does pay to advertise, as long as you have something worthwhile to offer. Mrs. B’s son, Louie, and his boys, Ron and Irv, complete the winning Blumkin team. It’s a joy to work with this family. All its members have character that matches their extraordinary abilities. o Last year I stated unequivocally that pre-tax margins at The Buffalo News would fall in 1988. That forecast would have proved correct at almost any other newspaper our size or larger. But Stan Lipsey - bless him - has managed to make me look foolish. Though we increased our prices a bit less than the industry average last year, and though our newsprint costs and wage rates rose in line with industry norms, Stan actually improved margins a tad. No one in the newspaper business has a better managerial record. He has achieved it, furthermore, while running a paper that gives readers an extraordinary amount of news. We believe that our “newshole” percentage - the portion of the paper devoted to news - is bigger than that of any other dominant paper of our size or larger. The percentage was 49.5% in 1988 versus 49.8% in 1987. We are committed to keeping it around 50%, whatever the level or trend of profit margins. Charlie and I have loved the newspaper business since we were youngsters, and we have had great fun with the News in the 12 years since we purchased it. We were fortunate to find Murray Light, a top-flight editor, on the scene when we arrived and he has made us proud of the paper ever since. o See’s Candies sold a record 25.1 million pounds in 1988. Prospects did not look good at the end of October, but excellent Christmas volume, considerably better than the record set in 1987, turned the tide. As we’ve told you before, See’s business continues to become more Christmas-concentrated. In 1988, the Company earned a record 90% of its full-year profits in December: $29 million out of $32.5 million before tax. (It’s enough to make you believe in Santa Claus.) December’s deluge of business produces a modest seasonal bulge in Berkshire’s corporate earnings. Another small bulge occurs in the first quarter, when most World Book annuals are sold. Charlie and I put Chuck Huggins in charge of See’s about five minutes after we bought the company. Upon reviewing his record, you may wonder what took us so long. o At Fechheimer, the Heldmans - Bob, George, Gary, Roger and Fred - are the Cincinnati counterparts of the Blumkins. Neither furniture retailing nor uniform manufacturing has inherently attractive economics. In these businesses, only exceptional managements can deliver high returns on invested capital. And that’s exactly what the five Heldmans do. (As Mets announcer Ralph Kiner once said when comparing pitcher Steve Trout to his father, Dizzy Trout, the famous Detroit Tigers pitcher: “There’s a lot of heredity in that family.”) Fechheimer made a fairly good-sized acquisition in 1988. Charlie and I have such confidence in the business savvy of the Heldman family that we okayed the deal without even looking at it. There are very few managements anywhere - including those running the top tier companies of the Fortune 500 - in which we would exhibit similar confidence. Because of both this acquisition and some internal growth, sales at Fechheimer should be up significantly in 1989. o All of the operations managed by Ralph Schey - World Book, Kirby, and The Scott Fetzer Manufacturing Group - performed splendidly in 1988. Returns on the capital entrusted to Ralph continue to be exceptional. Within the Scott Fetzer Manufacturing Group, particularly fine progress was recorded at its largest unit, Campbell Hausfeld. This company, the country’s leading producer of small and medium-sized air compressors, has more than doubled earnings since 1986. Unit sales at both Kirby and World Book were up significantly in 1988, with export business particularly strong. World Book became available in the Soviet Union in September, when that country’s largest American book store opened in Moscow. Ours is the only general encyclopedia offered at the store. Ralph’s personal productivity is amazing: In addition to running 19 businesses in superb fashion, he is active at The Cleveland Clinic, Ohio University, Case Western Reserve, and a venture capital operation that has spawned sixteen Ohio-based companies and resurrected many others. Both Ohio and Berkshire are fortunate to have Ralph on their side. Borsheim’s It was in 1983 that Berkshire purchased an 80% interest in The Nebraska Furniture Mart. Your Chairman blundered then by neglecting to ask Mrs. B a question any schoolboy would have thought of: “Are there any more at home like you?” Last month I corrected the error: We are now 80% partners with another branch of the family. After Mrs. B came over from Russia in 1917, her parents and five siblings followed. (Her two other siblings had preceded her.) Among the sisters was Rebecca Friedman who, with her husband, Louis, escaped in 1922 to the west through Latvia in a journey as perilous as Mrs. B’s earlier odyssey to the east through Manchuria. When the family members reunited in Omaha they had no tangible assets. However, they came equipped with an extraordinary combination of brains, integrity, and enthusiasm for work - and that’s all they needed. They have since proved themselves invincible. In 1948 Mr. Friedman purchased Borsheim’s, a small Omaha jewelry store. He was joined in the business by his son, Ike, in 1950 and, as the years went by, Ike’s son, Alan, and his sons-in- law, Marvin Cohn and Donald Yale, came in also. You won’t be surprised to learn that this family brings to the jewelry business precisely the same approach that the Blumkins bring to the furniture business. The cornerstone for both enterprises is Mrs. B’s creed: “Sell cheap and tell the truth.” Other fundamentals at both businesses are: (1) single store operations featuring huge inventories that provide customers with an enormous selection across all price ranges, (2) daily attention to detail by top management, (3) rapid turnover, (4) shrewd buying, and (5) incredibly low expenses. The combination of the last three factors lets both stores offer everyday prices that no one in the country comes close to matching. Most people, no matter how sophisticated they are in other matters, feel like babes in the woods when purchasing jewelry. They can judge neither quality nor price. For them only one rule makes sense: If you don’t know jewelry, know the jeweler. I can assure you that those who put their trust in Ike Friedman and his family will never be disappointed. The way in which we purchased our interest in their business is the ultimate testimonial. Borsheim’s had no audited financial statements; nevertheless, we didn’t take inventory, verify receivables or audit the operation in any way. Ike simply told us what was so - - and on that basis we drew up a one-page contract and wrote a large check. Business at Borsheim’s has mushroomed in recent years as the reputation of the Friedman family has spread. Customers now come to the store from all over the country. Among them have been some friends of mine from both coasts who thanked me later for getting them there. Borsheim’s new links to Berkshire will change nothing in the way this business is run. All members of the Friedman family will continue to operate just as they have before; Charlie and I will stay on the sidelines where we belong. And when we say “all members,” the words have real meaning. Mr. and Mrs. Friedman, at 88 and 87, respectively, are in the store daily. The wives of Ike, Alan, Marvin and Donald all pitch in at busy times, and a fourth generation is beginning to learn the ropes. It is great fun to be in business with people you have long admired. The Friedmans, like the Blumkins, have achieved success because they have deserved success. Both families focus on what’s right for the customer and that, inevitably, works out well for them, also. We couldn’t have better partners. Insurance Operations Shown below is an updated version of our usual table presenting key figures for the insurance industry: Statutory Yearly Change Combined Ratio Yearly Change Inflation Rate in Premiums After Policyholder in Incurred Measured by Written (%) Dividends Losses (%) GNP Deflator (%) ------------- ------------------ ------------- ---------------- 1981 ..... 3.8 106.0 6.5 9.6 1982 ..... 3.7 109.6 8.4 6.4 1983 ..... 5.0 112.0 6.8 3.8 1984 ..... 8.5 118.0 16.9 3.7 1985 ..... 22.1 116.3 16.1 3.2 1986 ..... 22.2 108.0 13.5 2.7 1987 ..... 9.4 104.6 7.8 3.3 1988 (Est.) 3.9 105.4 4.2 3.6 Source: A.M. Best Co. The combined ratio represents total insurance costs (losses incurred plus expenses) compared to revenue from premiums: A ratio below 100 indicates an underwriting profit, and one above 100 indicates a loss. When the investment income that an insurer earns from holding on to policyholders’ funds (“the float”) is taken into account, a combined ratio in the 107-111 range typically produces an overall break-even result, exclusive of earnings on the funds provided by shareholders. For the reasons laid out in previous reports, we expect the industry’s incurred losses to grow by about 10% annually, even in years when general inflation runs considerably lower. If premium growth meanwhile materially lags that 10% rate, underwriting losses will mount, though the industry’s tendency to underreserve when business turns bad may obscure their size for a time. As the table shows, the industry’s underwriting loss grew in 1988. This trend is almost certain to continue - and probably will accelerate - for at least two more years. The property-casualty insurance industry is not only subnormally profitable, it is subnormally popular. (As Sam Goldwyn philosophized: “In life, one must learn to take the bitter with the sour.”) One of the ironies of business is that many relatively-unprofitable industries that are plagued by inadequate prices habitually find themselves beat upon by irate customers even while other, hugely profitable industries are spared complaints, no matter how high their prices. Take the breakfast cereal industry, whose return on invested capital is more than double that of the auto insurance industry (which is why companies like Kellogg and General Mills sell at five times book value and most large insurers sell close to book). The cereal companies regularly impose price increases, few of them related to a significant jump in their costs. Yet not a peep is heard from consumers. But when auto insurers raise prices by amounts that do not even match cost increases, customers are outraged. If you want to be loved, it’s clearly better to sell high-priced corn flakes than low-priced auto insurance. The antagonism that the public feels toward the industry can have serious consequences: Proposition 103, a California initiative passed last fall, threatens to push auto insurance prices down sharply, even though costs have been soaring. The price cut has been suspended while the courts review the initiative, but the resentment that brought on the vote has not been suspended: Even if the initiative is overturned, insurers are likely to find it tough to operate profitably in California. (Thank heavens the citizenry isn’t mad at bonbons: If Proposition 103 applied to candy as well as insurance, See’s would be forced to sell its product for $5.76 per pound. rather than the $7.60 we charge - and would be losing money by the bucketful.) The immediate direct effects on Berkshire from the initiative are minor, since we saw few opportunities for profit in the rate structure that existed in California prior to the vote. However, the forcing down of prices would seriously affect GEICO, our 44%-owned investee, which gets about 10% of its premium volume from California. Even more threatening to GEICO is the possibility that similar pricing actions will be taken in other states, through either initiatives or legislation. If voters insist that auto insurance be priced below cost, it eventually must be sold by government. Stockholders can subsidize policyholders for a short period, but only taxpayers can subsidize them over the long term. At most property-casualty companies, socialized auto insurance would be no disaster for shareholders. Because of the commodity characteristics of the industry, most insurers earn mediocre returns and therefore have little or no economic goodwill to lose if they are forced by government to leave the auto insurance business. But GEICO, because it is a low-cost producer able to earn high returns on equity, has a huge amount of economic goodwill at risk. In turn, so do we. At Berkshire, in 1988, our premium volume continued to fall, and in 1989 we will experience a large decrease for a special reason: The contract through which we receive 7% of the business of Fireman’s Fund expires on August 31. At that time, we will return to Fireman’s Fund the unearned premiums we hold that relate to the contract. This transfer of funds will show up in our “premiums written” account as a negative $85 million or so and will make our third-quarter figures look rather peculiar. However, the termination of this contract will not have a significant effect on profits. Berkshire’s underwriting results continued to be excellent in 1988. Our combined ratio (on a statutory basis and excluding structured settlements and financial reinsurance) was 104. Reserve development was favorable for the second year in a row, after a string of years in which it was very unsatisfactory. Details on both underwriting and reserve development appear on pages 36-38. Our insurance volume over the next few years is likely to run very low, since business with a reasonable potential for profit will almost certainly be scarce. So be it. At Berkshire, we simply will not write policies at rates that carry the expectation of economic loss. We encounter enough troubles when we expect a gain. Despite - or perhaps because of - low volume, our profit picture during the next few years is apt to be considerably brighter than the industry’s. We are sure to have an exceptional amount of float compared to premium volume, and that augurs well for profits. In 1989 and 1990 we expect our float/premiums ratio to be at least three times that of the typical property/casualty company. Mike Goldberg, with special help from Ajit Jain, Dinos Iordanou, and the National Indemnity managerial team, has positioned us well in that respect. At some point - we don’t know when - we will be deluged with insurance business. The cause will probably be some major physical or financial catastrophe. But we could also experience an explosion in business, as we did in 1985, because large and increasing underwriting losses at other companies coincide with their recognition that they are far underreserved. in the meantime, we will retain our talented professionals, protect our capital, and try not to make major mistakes. Marketable Securities In selecting marketable securities for our insurance companies, we can choose among five major categories: (1) long- term common stock investments, (2) medium-term fixed-income securities, (3) long-term fixed-income securities, (4) short-term cash equivalents, and (5) short-term arbitrage commitments. We have no particular bias when it comes to choosing from these categories. We just continuously search among them for the highest after-tax returns as measured by “mathematical expectation,” limiting ourselves always to investment alternatives we think we understand. Our criteria have nothing to do with maximizing immediately reportable earnings; our goal, rather, is to maximize eventual net worth. o Below we list our common stock holdings having a value over $100 million, not including arbitrage commitments, which will be discussed later. A small portion of these investments belongs to subsidiaries of which Berkshire owns less than 100%. Shares Company Cost Market ------ ------- ---------- ---------- (000s omitted) 3,000,000 Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. .............. $517,500 $1,086,750 14,172,500 The Coca-Cola Company ................. 592,540 632,448 2,400,000 Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation Preferred* ............. 71,729 121,200 6,850,000 GEICO Corporation ..................... 45,713 849,400 1,727,765 The Washington Post Company ........... 9,731 364,126 *Although nominally a preferred stock, this security is financially equivalent to a common stock. Our permanent holdings - Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., GEICO Corporation, and The Washington Post Company - remain unchanged. Also unchanged is our unqualified admiration of their managements: Tom Murphy and Dan Burke at Cap Cities, Bill Snyder and Lou Simpson at GEICO, and Kay Graham and Dick Simmons at The Washington Post. Charlie and I appreciate enormously the talent and integrity these managers bring to their businesses. Their performance, which we have observed at close range, contrasts vividly with that of many CEOs, which we have fortunately observed from a safe distance. Sometimes these CEOs clearly do not belong in their jobs; their positions, nevertheless, are usually secure. The supreme irony of business management is that it is far easier for an inadequate CEO to keep his job than it is for an inadequate subordinate. If a secretary, say, is hired for a job that requires typing ability of at least 80 words a minute and turns out to be capable of only 50 words a minute, she will lose her job in no time. There is a logical standard for this job; performance is easily measured; and if you can’t make the grade, you’re out. Similarly, if new sales people fail to generate sufficient business quickly enough, they will be let go. Excuses will not be accepted as a substitute for orders. However, a CEO who doesn’t perform is frequently carried indefinitely. One reason is that performance standards for his job seldom exist. When they do, they are often fuzzy or they may be waived or explained away, even when the performance shortfalls are major and repeated. At too many companies, the boss shoots the arrow of managerial performance and then hastily paints the bullseye around the spot where it lands. Another important, but seldom recognized, distinction between the boss and the foot soldier is that the CEO has no immediate superior whose performance is itself getting measured. The sales manager who retains a bunch of lemons in his sales force will soon be in hot water himself. It is in his immediate self-interest to promptly weed out his hiring mistakes. Otherwise, he himself may be weeded out. An office manager who has hired inept secretaries faces the same imperative. But the CEO’s boss is a Board of Directors that seldom measures itself and is infrequently held to account for substandard corporate performance. If the Board makes a mistake in hiring, and perpetuates that mistake, so what? Even if the company is taken over because of the mistake, the deal will probably bestow substantial benefits on the outgoing Board members. (The bigger they are, the softer they fall.) Finally, relations between the Board and the CEO are expected to be congenial. At board meetings, criticism of the CEO’s performance is often viewed as the social equivalent of belching. No such inhibitions restrain the office manager from critically evaluating the substandard typist. These points should not be interpreted as a blanket condemnation of CEOs or Boards of Directors: Most are able and hard-working, and a number are truly outstanding. But the management failings that Charlie and I have seen make us thankful that we are linked with the managers of our three permanent holdings. They love their businesses, they think like owners, and they exude integrity and ability. o In 1988 we made major purchases of Federal Home Loan Mortgage Pfd. (“Freddie Mac”) and Coca Cola. We expect to hold these securities for a long time. In fact, when we own portions of outstanding businesses with outstanding managements, our favorite holding period is forever. We are just the opposite of those who hurry to sell and book profits when companies perform well but who tenaciously hang on to businesses that disappoint. Peter Lynch aptly likens such behavior to cutting the flowers and watering the weeds. Our holdings of Freddie Mac are the maximum allowed by law, and are extensively described by Charlie in his letter. In our consolidated balance sheet these shares are carried at cost rather than market, since they are owned by Mutual Savings and Loan, a non-insurance subsidiary. We continue to concentrate our investments in a very few companies that we try to understand well. There are only a handful of businesses about which we have strong long-term convictions. Therefore, when we find such a business, we want to participate in a meaningful way. We agree with Mae West: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” o We reduced our holdings of medium-term tax-exempt bonds by about $100 million last year. All of the bonds sold were acquired after August 7, 1986. When such bonds are held by property-casualty insurance companies, 15% of the “tax-exempt” interest earned is subject to tax. The $800 million position we still hold consists almost entirely of bonds “grandfathered” under the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which means they are entirely tax-exempt. Our sales produced a small profit and our remaining bonds, which have an average maturity of about six years, are worth modestly more than carrying value. Last year we described our holdings of short-term and intermediate-term bonds of Texaco, which was then in bankruptcy. During 1988, we sold practically all of these bonds at a pre-tax profit of about $22 million. This sale explains close to $100 million of the reduction in fixed-income securities on our balance sheet. We also told you last year about our holdings of another security whose predominant characteristics are those of an intermediate fixed-income issue: our $700 million position in Salomon Inc 9% convertible preferred. This preferred has a sinking fund that will retire it in equal annual installments from 1995 to 1999. Berkshire carries this holding at cost. For reasons discussed by Charlie on page 69, the estimated market value of our holding has improved from moderately under cost at the end of last year to moderately over cost at 1988 year end. The close association we have had with John Gutfreund, CEO of Salomon, during the past year has reinforced our admiration for him. But we continue to have no great insights about the near, intermediate or long-term economics of the investment banking business: This is not an industry in which it is easy to forecast future levels of profitability. We continue to believe that our conversion privilege could well have important value over the life of our preferred. However, the overwhelming portion of the preferred’s value resides in its fixed-income characteristics, not its equity characteristics. o We have not lost our aversion to long-term bonds. We will become enthused about such securities only when we become enthused about prospects for long-term stability in the purchasing power of money. And that kind of stability isn’t in the cards: Both society and elected officials simply have too many higher-ranking priorities that conflict with purchasing- power stability. The only long-term bonds we hold are those of Washington Public Power Supply Systems (WPPSS). A few of our WPPSS bonds have short maturities and many others, because of their high coupons, are likely to be refunded and paid off in a few years. Overall, our WPPSS holdings are carried on our balance sheet at $247 million and have a market value of about $352 million. We explained the reasons for our WPPSS purchases in the 1983 annual report, and are pleased to tell you that this commitment has worked out about as expected. At the time of purchase, most of our bonds were yielding around 17% after taxes and carried no ratings, which had been suspended. Recently, the bonds were rated AA- by Standard & Poor’s. They now sell at levels only slightly below those enjoyed by top-grade credits. In the 1983 report, we compared the economics of our WPPSS purchase to those involved in buying a business. As it turned out, this purchase actually worked out better than did the general run of business acquisitions made in 1983, assuming both are measured on the basis of unleveraged, after tax returns achieved through 1988. Our WPPSS experience, though pleasant, does nothing to alter our negative opinion about long-term bonds. It only makes us hope that we run into some other large stigmatized issue, whose troubles have caused it to be significantly misappraised by the market. Arbitrage In past reports we have told you that our insurance subsidiaries sometimes engage in arbitrage as an alternative to holding short-term cash equivalents. We prefer, of course, to make major long-term commitments, but we often have more cash than good ideas. At such times, arbitrage sometimes promises much greater returns than Treasury Bills and, equally important, cools any temptation we may have to relax our standards for long- term investments. (Charlie’s sign off after we’ve talked about an arbitrage commitment is usually: “Okay, at least it will keep you out of bars.”) During 1988 we made unusually large profits from arbitrage, measured both by absolute dollars and rate of return. Our pre- tax gain was about $78 million on average invested funds of about $147 million. This level of activity makes some detailed discussion of arbitrage and our approach to it appropriate. Once, the word applied only to the simultaneous purchase and sale of securities or foreign exchange in two different markets. The goal was to exploit tiny price differentials that might exist between, say, Royal Dutch stock trading in guilders in Amsterdam, pounds in London, and dollars in New York. Some people might call this scalping; it won’t surprise you that practitioners opted for the French term, arbitrage. Since World War I the definition of arbitrage - or “risk arbitrage,” as it is now sometimes called - has expanded to include the pursuit of profits from an announced corporate event such as sale of the company, merger, recapitalization, reorganization, liquidation, self-tender, etc. In most cases the arbitrageur expects to profit regardless of the behavior of the stock market. The major risk he usually faces instead is that the announced event won’t happen. Some offbeat opportunities occasionally arise in the arbitrage field. I participated in one of these when I was 24 and working in New York for Graham-Newman Corp. Rockwood & Co., a Brooklyn based chocolate products company of limited profitability, had adopted LIFO inventory valuation in 1941 when cocoa was selling for 5¢ per pound. In 1954 a temporary shortage of cocoa caused the price to soar to over 60¢. Consequently Rockwood wished to unload its valuable inventory - quickly, before the price dropped. But if the cocoa had simply been sold off, the company would have owed close to a 50% tax on the proceeds. The 1954 Tax Code came to the rescue. It contained an arcane provision that eliminated the tax otherwise due on LIFO profits if inventory was distributed to shareholders as part of a plan reducing the scope of a corporation’s business. Rockwood decided to terminate one of its businesses, the sale of cocoa butter, and said 13 million pounds of its cocoa bean inventory was attributable to that activity. Accordingly, the company offered to repurchase its stock in exchange for the cocoa beans it no longer needed, paying 80 pounds of beans for each share. For several weeks I busily bought shares, sold beans, and made periodic stops at Schroeder Trust to exchange stock certificates for warehouse receipts. The profits were good and my only expense was subway tokens. The architect of Rockwood’s restructuring was an unknown, but brilliant Chicagoan, Jay Pritzker, then 32. If you’re familiar with Jay’s subsequent record, you won’t be surprised to hear the action worked out rather well for Rockwood’s continuing shareholders also. From shortly before the tender until shortly after it, Rockwood stock appreciated from 15 to 100, even though the company was experiencing large operating losses. Sometimes there is more to stock valuation than price-earnings ratios. In recent years, most arbitrage operations have involved takeovers, friendly and unfriendly. With acquisition fever rampant, with anti-trust challenges almost non-existent, and with bids often ratcheting upward, arbitrageurs have prospered mightily. They have not needed special talents to do well; the trick, a la Peter Sellers in the movie, has simply been “Being There.” In Wall Street the old proverb has been reworded: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to arbitrage and you feed him forever.” (If, however, he studied at the Ivan Boesky School of Arbitrage, it may be a state institution that supplies his meals.) To evaluate arbitrage situations you must answer four questions: (1) How likely is it that the promised event will indeed occur? (2) How long will your money be tied up? (3) What chance is there that something still better will transpire - a competing takeover bid, for example? and (4) What will happen if the event does not take place because of anti-trust action, financing glitches, etc.? Arcata Corp., one of our more serendipitous arbitrage experiences, illustrates the twists and turns of the business. On September 28, 1981 the directors of Arcata agreed in principle to sell the company to Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co. (KKR), then and now a major leveraged-buy out firm. Arcata was in the printing and forest products businesses and had one other thing going for it: In 1978 the U.S. Government had taken title to 10,700 acres of Arcata timber, primarily old-growth redwood, to expand Redwood National Park. The government had paid $97.9 million, in several installments, for this acreage, a sum Arcata was contesting as grossly inadequate. The parties also disputed the interest rate that should apply to the period between the taking of the property and final payment for it. The enabling legislation stipulated 6% simple interest; Arcata argued for a much higher and compounded rate. Buying a company with a highly-speculative, large-sized claim in litigation creates a negotiating problem, whether the claim is on behalf of or against the company. To solve this problem, KKR offered $37.00 per Arcata share plus two-thirds of any additional amounts paid by the government for the redwood lands. Appraising this arbitrage opportunity, we had to ask ourselves whether KKR would consummate the transaction since, among other things, its offer was contingent upon its obtaining “satisfactory financing.” A clause of this kind is always dangerous for the seller: It offers an easy exit for a suitor whose ardor fades between proposal and marriage. However, we were not particularly worried about this possibility because KKR’s past record for closing had been good. We also had to ask ourselves what would happen if the KKR deal did fall through, and here we also felt reasonably comfortable: Arcata’s management and directors had been shopping the company for some time and were clearly determined to sell. If KKR went away, Arcata would likely find another buyer, though of course, the price might be lower. Finally, we had to ask ourselves what the redwood claim might be worth. Your Chairman, who can’t tell an elm from an oak, had no trouble with that one: He coolly evaluated the claim at somewhere between zero and a whole lot. We started buying Arcata stock, then around $33.50, on September 30 and in eight weeks purchased about 400,000 shares, or 5% of the company. The initial announcement said that the $37.00 would be paid in January, 1982. Therefore, if everything had gone perfectly, we would have achieved an annual rate of return of about 40% - not counting the redwood claim, which would have been frosting. All did not go perfectly. In December it was announced that the closing would be delayed a bit. Nevertheless, a definitive agreement was signed on January 4. Encouraged, we raised our stake, buying at around $38.00 per share and increasing our holdings to 655,000 shares, or over 7% of the company. Our willingness to pay up - even though the closing had been postponed - reflected our leaning toward “a whole lot” rather than “zero” for the redwoods. Then, on February 25 the lenders said they were taking a “second look” at financing terms “ in view of the severely depressed housing industry and its impact on Arcata’s outlook.” The stockholders’ meeting was postponed again, to April. An Arcata spokesman said he “did not think the fate of the acquisition itself was imperiled.” When arbitrageurs hear such reassurances, their minds flash to the old saying: “He lied like a finance minister on the eve of devaluation.” On March 12 KKR said its earlier deal wouldn’t work, first cutting its offer to $33.50, then two days later raising it to $35.00. On March 15, however, the directors turned this bid down and accepted another group’s offer of $37.50 plus one-half of any redwood recovery. The shareholders okayed the deal, and the $37.50 was paid on June 4. We received $24.6 million versus our cost of $22.9 million; our average holding period was close to six months. Considering the trouble this transaction encountered, our 15% annual rate of return excluding any value for the redwood claim - was more than satisfactory. But the best was yet to come. The trial judge appointed two commissions, one to look at the timber’s value, the other to consider the interest rate questions. In January 1987, the first commission said the redwoods were worth $275.7 million and the second commission recommended a compounded, blended rate of return working out to about 14%. In August 1987 the judge upheld these conclusions, which meant a net amount of about $600 million would be due Arcata. The government then appealed. In 1988, though, before this appeal was heard, the claim was settled for $519 million. Consequently, we received an additional $29.48 per share, or about $19.3 million. We will get another $800,000 or so in 1989. Berkshire’s arbitrage activities differ from those of many arbitrageurs. First, we participate in only a few, and usually very large, transactions each year. Most practitioners buy into a great many deals perhaps 50 or more per year. With that many irons in the fire, they must spend most of their time monitoring both the progress of deals and the market movements of the related stocks. This is not how Charlie nor I wish to spend our lives. (What’s the sense in getting rich just to stare at a ticker tape all day?) Because we diversify so little, one particularly profitable or unprofitable transaction will affect our yearly result from arbitrage far more than it will the typical arbitrage operation. So far, Berkshire has not had a really bad experience. But we will - and when it happens we’ll report the gory details to you. The other way we differ from some arbitrage operations is that we participate only in transactions that have been publicly announced. We do not trade on rumors or try to guess takeover candidates. We just read the newspapers, think about a few of the big propositions, and go by our own sense of probabilities. At yearend, our only major arbitrage position was 3,342,000 shares of RJR Nabisco with a cost of $281.8 million and a market value of $304.5 million. In January we increased our holdings to roughly four million shares and in February we eliminated our position. About three million shares were accepted when we tendered our holdings to KKR, which acquired RJR, and the returned shares were promptly sold in the market. Our pre-tax profit was a better-than-expected $64 million. Earlier, another familiar face turned up in the RJR bidding contest: Jay Pritzker, who was part of a First Boston group that made a tax-oriented offer. To quote Yogi Berra; “It was deja vu all over again.” During most of the time when we normally would have been purchasers of RJR, our activities in the stock were restricted because of Salomon’s participation in a bidding group. Customarily, Charlie and I, though we are directors of Salomon, are walled off from information about its merger and acquisition work. We have asked that it be that way: The information would do us no good and could, in fact, occasionally inhibit Berkshire’s arbitrage operations. However, the unusually large commitment that Salomon proposed to make in the RJR deal required that all directors be fully informed and involved. Therefore, Berkshire’s purchases of RJR were made at only two times: first, in the few days immediately following management’s announcement of buyout plans, before Salomon became involved; and considerably later, after the RJR board made its decision in favor of KKR. Because we could not buy at other times, our directorships cost Berkshire significant money. Considering Berkshire’s good results in 1988, you might expect us to pile into arbitrage during 1989. Instead, we expect to be on the sidelines. One pleasant reason is that our cash holdings are down - because our position in equities that we expect to hold for a very long time is substantially up. As regular readers of this report know, our new commitments are not based on a judgment about short-term prospects for the stock market. Rather, they reflect an opinion about long-term business prospects for specific companies. We do not have, never have had, and never will have an opinion about where the stock market, interest rates, or business activity will be a year from now. Even if we had a lot of cash we probably would do little in arbitrage in 1989. Some extraordinary excesses have developed in the takeover field. As Dorothy says: “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.” We have no idea how long the excesses will last, nor do we know what will change the attitudes of government, lender and buyer that fuel them. But we do know that the less the prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we should conduct our own affairs. We have no desire to arbitrage transactions that reflect the unbridled - and, in our view, often unwarranted - optimism of both buyers and lenders. In our activities, we will heed the wisdom of Herb Stein: “If something can’t go on forever, it will end.” Efficient Market Theory The preceding discussion about arbitrage makes a small discussion of “efficient market theory” (EMT) also seem relevant. This doctrine became highly fashionable - indeed, almost holy scripture in academic circles during the 1970s. Essentially, it said that analyzing stocks was useless because all public information about them was appropriately reflected in their prices. In other words, the market always knew everything. As a corollary, the professors who taught EMT said that someone throwing darts at the stock tables could select a stock portfolio having prospects just as good as one selected by the brightest, most hard-working security analyst. Amazingly, EMT was embraced not only by academics, but by many investment professionals and corporate managers as well. Observing correctly that the market was frequently efficient, they went on to conclude incorrectly that it was always efficient. The difference between these propositions is night and day. In my opinion, the continuous 63-year arbitrage experience of Graham-Newman Corp. Buffett Partnership, and Berkshire illustrates just how foolish EMT is. (There’s plenty of other evidence, also.) While at Graham-Newman, I made a study of its earnings from arbitrage during the entire 1926-1956 lifespan of the company. Unleveraged returns averaged 20% per year. Starting in 1956, I applied Ben Graham’s arbitrage principles, first at Buffett Partnership and then Berkshire. Though I’ve not made an exact calculation, I have done enough work to know that the 1956-1988 returns averaged well over 20%. (Of course, I operated in an environment far more favorable than Ben’s; he had 1929-1932 to contend with.) All of the conditions are present that are required for a fair test of portfolio performance: (1) the three organizations traded hundreds of different securities while building this 63- year record; (2) the results are not skewed by a few fortunate experiences; (3) we did not have to dig for obscure facts or develop keen insights about products or managements - we simply acted on highly-publicized events; and (4) our arbitrage positions were a clearly identified universe - they have not been selected by hindsight. Over the 63 years, the general market delivered just under a 10% annual return, including dividends. That means $1,000 would have grown to $405,000 if all income had been reinvested. A 20% rate of return, however, would have produced $97 million. That strikes us as a statistically-significant differential that might, conceivably, arouse one’s curiosity. Yet proponents of the theory have never seemed interested in discordant evidence of this type. True, they don’t talk quite as much about their theory today as they used to. But no one, to my knowledge, has ever said he was wrong, no matter how many thousands of students he has sent forth misinstructed. EMT, moreover, continues to be an integral part of the investment curriculum at major business schools. Apparently, a reluctance to recant, and thereby to demystify the priesthood, is not limited to theologians. Naturally the disservice done students and gullible investment professionals who have swallowed EMT has been an extraordinary service to us and other followers of Graham. In any sort of a contest - financial, mental, or physical - it’s an enormous advantage to have opponents who have been taught that it’s useless to even try. From a selfish point of view, Grahamites should probably endow chairs to ensure the perpetual teaching of EMT. All this said, a warning is appropriate. Arbitrage has looked easy recently. But this is not a form of investing that guarantees profits of 20% a year or, for that matter, profits of any kind. As noted, the market is reasonably efficient much of the time: For every arbitrage opportunity we seized in that 63- year period, many more were foregone because they seemed properly-priced. An investor cannot obtain superior profits from stocks by simply committing to a specific investment category or style. He can earn them only by carefully evaluating facts and continuously exercising discipline. Investing in arbitrage situations, per se, is no better a strategy than selecting a portfolio by throwing darts. New York Stock Exchange Listing Berkshire’s shares were listed on the New York Stock Exchange on November 29, 1988. On pages 50-51 we reproduce the letter we sent to shareholders concerning the listing. Let me clarify one point not dealt with in the letter: Though our round lot for trading on the NYSE is ten shares, any number of shares from one on up can be bought or sold. As the letter explains, our primary goal in listing was to reduce transaction costs, and we believe this goal is being achieved. Generally, the spread between the bid and asked price on the NYSE has been well below the spread that prevailed in the over-the-counter market. Henderson Brothers, Inc., the specialist in our shares, is the oldest continuing specialist firm on the Exchange; its progenitor, William Thomas Henderson, bought his seat for $500 on September 8, 1861. (Recently, seats were selling for about $625,000.) Among the 54 firms acting as specialists, HBI ranks second in number of stocks assigned, with 83. We were pleased when Berkshire was allocated to HBI, and have been delighted with the firm’s performance. Jim Maguire, Chairman of HBI, personally manages the trading in Berkshire, and we could not be in better hands. In two respects our goals probably differ somewhat from those of most listed companies. First, we do not want to maximize the price at which Berkshire shares trade. We wish instead for them to trade in a narrow range centered at intrinsic business value (which we hope increases at a reasonable - or, better yet, unreasonable - rate). Charlie and I are bothered as much by significant overvaluation as significant undervaluation. Both extremes will inevitably produce results for many shareholders that will differ sharply from Berkshire’s business results. If our stock price instead consistently mirrors business value, each of our shareholders will receive an investment result that roughly parallels the business results of Berkshire during his holding period. Second, we wish for very little trading activity. If we ran a private business with a few passive partners, we would be disappointed if those partners, and their replacements, frequently wanted to leave the partnership. Running a public company, we feel the same way. Our goal is to attract long-term owners who, at the time of purchase, have no timetable or price target for sale but plan instead to stay with us indefinitely. We don’t understand the CEO who wants lots of stock activity, for that can be achieved only if many of his owners are constantly exiting. At what other organization - school, club, church, etc. - do leaders cheer when members leave? (However, if there were a broker whose livelihood depended upon the membership turnover in such organizations, you could be sure that there would be at least one proponent of activity, as in: “There hasn’t been much going on in Christianity for a while; maybe we should switch to Buddhism next week.“) Of course, some Berkshire owners will need or want to sell from time to time, and we wish for good replacements who will pay them a fair price. Therefore we try, through our policies, performance, and communications, to attract new shareholders who understand our operations, share our time horizons, and measure us as we measure ourselves. If we can continue to attract this sort of shareholder - and, just as important, can continue to be uninteresting to those with short-term or unrealistic expectations - Berkshire shares should consistently sell at prices reasonably related to business value. David L. Dodd Dave Dodd, my friend and teacher for 38 years, died last year at age 93. Most of you don’t know of him. Yet any long- time shareholder of Berkshire is appreciably wealthier because of the indirect influence he had upon our company. Dave spent a lifetime teaching at Columbia University, and he co-authored Security Analysis with Ben Graham. From the moment I arrived at Columbia, Dave personally encouraged and educated me; one influence was as important as the other. Everything he taught me, directly or through his book, made sense. Later, through dozens of letters, he continued my education right up until his death. I have known many professors of finance and investments but I have never seen any, except for Ben Graham, who was the match of Dave. The proof of his talent is the record of his students: No other teacher of investments has sent forth so many who have achieved unusual success. When students left Dave’s classroom, they were equipped to invest intelligently for a lifetime because the principles he taught were simple, sound, useful, and enduring. Though these may appear to be unremarkable virtues, the teaching of principles embodying them has been rare. It’s particularly impressive that Dave could practice as well as preach. just as Keynes became wealthy by applying his academic ideas to a very small purse, so, too, did Dave. Indeed, his financial performance far outshone that of Keynes, who began as a market-timer (leaning on business and credit-cycle theory) and converted, after much thought, to value investing. Dave was right from the start. In Berkshire’s investments, Charlie and I have employed the principles taught by Dave and Ben Graham. Our prosperity is the fruit of their intellectual tree. Miscellaneous We hope to buy more businesses that are similar to the ones we have, and we can use some help. If you have a business that fits the following criteria, call me or, preferably, write. Here’s what we’re looking for: (1) large purchases (at least $10 million of after-tax earnings), (2) demonstrated consistent earning power (future projections are of little interest to us, nor are “turnaround” situations), (3) businesses earning good returns on equity while employing little or no debt, (4) management in place (we can’t supply it), (5) simple businesses (if there’s lots of technology, we won’t understand it), (6) an offering price (we don’t want to waste our time or that of the seller by talking, even preliminarily, about a transaction when price is unknown). We will not engage in unfriendly takeovers. We can promise complete confidentiality and a very fast answer - customarily within five minutes - as to whether we’re interested. We prefer to buy for cash, but will consider issuing stock when we receive as much in intrinsic business value as we give. Our favorite form of purchase is one fitting the Blumkin- Friedman-Heldman mold. In cases like these, the company’s owner- managers wish to generate significant amounts of cash, sometimes for themselves, but often for their families or inactive shareholders. However, these managers also wish to remain significant owners who continue to run their companies just as they have in the past. We think we offer a particularly good fit for owners with these objectives and invite potential sellers to check us out by contacting people with whom we have done business in the past. Charlie and I frequently get approached about acquisitions that don’t come close to meeting our tests: We’ve found that if you advertise an interest in buying collies, a lot of people will call hoping to sell you their cocker spaniels. Our interest in new ventures, turnarounds, or auction-like sales can best be expressed by another Goldwynism: “Please include me out.” Besides being interested in the purchase of businesses as described above, we are also interested in the negotiated purchase of large, but not controlling, blocks of stock comparable to those we hold in Cap Cities and Salomon. We have a special interest in purchasing convertible preferreds as a long- term investment, as we did at Salomon. * * * We received some good news a few weeks ago: Standard & Poor’s raised our credit rating to AAA, which is the highest rating it bestows. Only 15 other U.S. industrial or property- casualty companies are rated AAA, down from 28 in 1980. Corporate bondholders have taken their lumps in the past few years from “event risk.” This term refers to the overnight degradation of credit that accompanies a heavily-leveraged purchase or recapitalization of a business whose financial policies, up to then, had been conservative. In a world of takeovers inhabited by few owner-managers, most corporations present such a risk. Berkshire does not. Charlie and I promise bondholders the same respect we afford shareholders. * * * About 97.4% of all eligible shares participated in Berkshire’s 1988 shareholder-designated contributions program. Contributions made through the program were $5 million, and 2,319 charities were recipients. If we achieve reasonable business results, we plan to increase the per-share contributions in 1989. We urge new shareholders to read the description of our shareholder-designated contributions program that appears on pages 48-49. If you wish to participate in future programs, we strongly urge that you immediately make sure your shares are registered in the name of the actual owner, not in the nominee name of a broker, bank or depository. Shares not so registered on September 30, 1989 will be ineligible for the 1989 program. * * * Berkshire’s annual meeting will be held in Omaha on Monday, April 24, 1989, and I hope you will come. The meeting provides the forum for you to ask any owner-related questions you may have, and we will keep answering until all (except those dealing with portfolio activities or other proprietary information) have been dealt with. After the meeting we will have several buses available to take you to visit Mrs. B at The Nebraska Furniture Mart and Ike Friedman at Borsheim’s. Be prepared for bargains. Out-of-towners may prefer to arrive early and visit Mrs. B during the Sunday store hours of noon to five. (These Sunday hours seem ridiculously short to Mrs. B, who feels they scarcely allow her time to warm up; she much prefers the days on which the store remains open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.) Borsheims, however, is not open on Sunday. Ask Mrs. B the secret of her astonishingly low carpet prices. She will confide to you - as she does to everyone - how she does it: “I can sell so cheap ‘cause I work for this dummy who doesn’t know anything about carpet.” Warren E. Buffett February 28, 1989 Chairman of the Board