BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INC.

 

To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.:

     Our gain in net worth during 1999 was $358 million, which increased the per-share book value of both our Class A and Class B stock by 0.5%. Over the last 35 years (that is, since present management took over) per-share book value has grown from $19 to $37,987, a rate of 24.0% compounded annually.*


*     All figures used in this report apply to Berkshire's A shares, the successor to the only stock that the company had outstanding before 1996. The B shares have an economic interest equal to 1/30th that of the A.


     The numbers on the facing page show just how poor our 1999 record was. We had the worst absolute performance of my tenure and, compared to the S&P, the worst relative performance as well. Relative results are what concern us: Over time, bad relative numbers will produce unsatisfactory absolute results.

     Even Inspector Clouseau could find last year's guilty party: your Chairman. My performance reminds me of the quarterback whose report card showed four Fs and a D but who nonetheless had an understanding coach. "Son," he drawled, "I think you're spending too much time on that one subject."

     My "one subject" is capital allocation, and my grade for 1999 most assuredly is a D. What most hurt us during the year was the inferior performance of Berkshire's equity portfolio -- and responsibility for that portfolio, leaving aside the small piece of it run by Lou Simpson of GEICO, is entirely mine. Several of our largest investees badly lagged the market in 1999 because they've had disappointing operating results. We still like these businesses and are content to have major investments in them. But their stumbles damaged our performance last year, and it's no sure thing that they will quickly regain their stride.

     The fallout from our weak results in 1999 was a more-than-commensurate drop in our stock price. In 1998, to go back a bit, the stock outperformed the business. Last year the business did much better than the stock, a divergence that has continued to the date of this letter. Over time, of course, the performance of the stock must roughly match the performance of the business.

     Despite our poor showing last year, Charlie Munger, Berkshire's Vice Chairman and my partner, and I expect that the gain in Berkshire's intrinsic value over the next decade will modestly exceed the gain from owning the S&P. We can't guarantee that, of course. But we are willing to back our conviction with our own money. To repeat a fact you've heard before, well over 99% of my net worth resides in Berkshire. Neither my wife nor I have ever sold a share of Berkshire and -- unless our checks stop clearing -- we have no intention of doing so.

     Please note that I spoke of hoping to beat the S&P "modestly." For Berkshire, truly large superiorities over that index are a thing of the past. They existed then because we could buy both businesses and stocks at far more attractive prices than we can now, and also because we then had a much smaller capital base, a situation that allowed us to consider a much wider range of investment opportunities than are available to us today.

     Our optimism about Berkshire's performance is also tempered by the expectation -- indeed, in our minds, the virtual certainty -- that the S&P will do far less well in the next decade or two than it has done since 1982. A recent article in Fortune expressed my views as to why this is inevitable, and I'm enclosing a copy with this report.

     Our goal is to run our present businesses well -- a task made easy because of the outstanding managers we have in place -- and to acquire additional businesses having economic characteristics and managers comparable to those we already own. We made important progress in this respect during 1999 by acquiring Jordan's Furniture and contracting to buy a major portion of MidAmerican Energy. We will talk more about these companies later in the report but let me emphasize one point here: We bought both for cash, issuing no Berkshire shares. Deals of that kind aren't always possible, but that is the method of acquisition that Charlie and I vastly prefer.

 

Guides to Intrinsic Value

     I often talk in these pages about intrinsic value, a key, though far from precise, measurement we utilize in our acquisitions of businesses and common stocks. (For an extensive discussion of this, and other investment and accounting terms and concepts, please refer to our Owner's Manual on pages 55 - 62. Intrinsic value is discussed on page 60.)

     In our last four reports, we have furnished you a table that we regard as useful in estimating Berkshire's intrinsic value. In the updated version of that table, which follows, we trace two key components of value. The first column lists our per-share ownership of investments (including cash and equivalents but excluding assets held in our financial products operation) and the second column shows our per-share earnings from Berkshire's operating businesses before taxes and purchase-accounting adjustments (discussed on page 61), but after all interest and corporate expenses. The second column excludes all dividends, interest and capital gains that we realized from the investments presented in the first column. In effect, the columns show how Berkshire would look if it were split into two parts, with one entity holding our investments and the other operating all of our businesses and bearing all corporate costs.

     
Pre-tax Earnings
(Loss) Per Share
Investments
With All Income from
Year  
Per Share
Investments Excluded
1969 ...........................................................................  $ 45

$ 4.39

1979 ...........................................................................

577

13.07

1989 ...........................................................................

7,200

108.86

1999 ...........................................................................
47,339
(458.55)

         Here are the growth rates of the two segments by decade:

 

     
Pre-tax Earnings Per Share
   
Investments
With All Income from
Decade Ending  
Per Share
Investments Excluded
1979 ............................................. 29.0% 11.5%
1989 ............................................. 28.7% 23.6%
1999 ............................................. 20.7% N.A.
       
Annual Growth Rate, 1969-1999 ................. 25.4% N.A.

     In 1999, our per-share investments changed very little, but our operating earnings, affected by negatives that overwhelmed some strong positives, fell apart. Most of our operating managers deserve a grade of A for delivering fine results and for having widened the difference between the intrinsic value of their businesses and the value at which these are carried on our balance sheet. But, offsetting this, we had a huge -- and, I believe, aberrational -- underwriting loss at General Re. Additionally, GEICO's underwriting profit fell, as we had predicted it would. GEICO's overall performance, though, was terrific, outstripping my ambitious goals.

     We do not expect our underwriting earnings to improve in any dramatic way this year. Though GEICO's intrinsic value should grow by a highly satisfying amount, its underwriting performance is almost certain to weaken. That's because auto insurers, as a group, will do worse in 2000, and because we will materially increase our marketing expenditures. At General Re, we are raising rates and, if there is no mega-catastrophe in 2000, the company's underwriting loss should fall considerably. It takes some time, however, for the full effect of rate increases to kick in, and General Re is therefore likely to have another unsatisfactory underwriting year.

     You should be aware that one item regularly working to widen the amount by which intrinsic value exceeds book value is the annual charge against income we take for amortization of goodwill -- an amount now running about $500 million. This charge reduces the amount of goodwill we show as an asset and likewise the amount that is included in our book value. This is an accounting matter having nothing to do with true economic goodwill, which increases in most years. But even if economic goodwill were to remain constant, the annual amortization charge would persistently widen the gap between intrinsic value and book value.

     Though we can't give you a precise figure for Berkshire's intrinsic value, or even an approximation, Charlie and I can assure you that it far exceeds our $57.8 billion book value. Businesses such as See's and Buffalo News are now worth fifteen to twenty times the value at which they are carried on our books. Our goal is to continually widen this spread at all subsidiaries.

A Managerial Story You Will Never Read Elsewhere

     Berkshire's collection of managers is unusual in several important ways. As one example, a very high percentage of these men and women are independently wealthy, having made fortunes in the businesses that they run. They work neither because they need the money nor because they are contractually obligated to -- we have no contracts at Berkshire. Rather, they work long and hard because they love their businesses. And I use the word "their" advisedly, since these managers are truly in charge -- there are no show-and-tell presentations in Omaha, no budgets to be approved by headquarters, no dictums issued about capital expenditures. We simply ask our managers to run their companies as if these are the sole asset of their families and will remain so for the next century.

     Charlie and I try to behave with our managers just as we attempt to behave with Berkshire's shareholders, treating both groups as we would wish to be treated if our positions were reversed. Though "working" means nothing to me financially, I love doing it at Berkshire for some simple reasons: It gives me a sense of achievement, a freedom to act as I see fit and an opportunity to interact daily with people I like and trust. Why should our managers -- accomplished artists at what they do -- see things differently?

     In their relations with Berkshire, our managers often appear to be hewing to President Kennedy's charge, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Here's a remarkable story from last year: It's about R. C. Willey, Utah's dominant home furnishing business, which Berkshire purchased from Bill Child and his family in 1995. Bill and most of his managers are Mormons, and for this reason R. C. Willey's stores have never operated on Sunday. This is a difficult way to do business: Sunday is the favorite shopping day for many customers. Bill, nonetheless, stuck to his principles -- and while doing so built his business from $250,000 of annual sales in 1954, when he took over, to $342 million in 1999.

     Bill felt that R. C. Willey could operate successfully in markets outside of Utah and in 1997 suggested that we open a store in Boise. I was highly skeptical about taking a no-Sunday policy into a new territory where we would be up against entrenched rivals open seven days a week. Nevertheless, this was Bill's business to run. So, despite my reservations, I told him to follow both his business judgment and his religious convictions.

     Bill then insisted on a truly extraordinary proposition: He would personally buy the land and build the store -- for about $9 million as it turned out -- and would sell it to us at his cost if it proved to be successful. On the other hand, if sales fell short of his expectations, we could exit the business without paying Bill a cent. This outcome, of course, would leave him with a huge investment in an empty building. I told him that I appreciated his offer but felt that if Berkshire was going to get the upside it should also take the downside. Bill said nothing doing: If there was to be failure because of his religious beliefs, he wanted to take the blow personally.

     The store opened last August and immediately became a huge success. Bill thereupon turned the property over to us -- including some extra land that had appreciated significantly -- and we wrote him a check for his cost. And get this: Bill refused to take a dime of interest on the capital he had tied up over the two years.

      If a manager has behaved similarly at some other public corporation, I haven't heard about it. You can understand why the opportunity to partner with people like Bill Child causes me to tap dance to work every morning.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

     A footnote: After our "soft" opening in August, we had a grand opening of the Boise store about a month later. Naturally, I went there to cut the ribbon (your Chairman, I wish to emphasize, is good for something). In my talk I told the crowd how sales had far exceeded expectations, making us, by a considerable margin, the largest home furnishings store in Idaho. Then, as the speech progressed, my memory miraculously began to improve. By the end of my talk, it all had come back to me: Opening a store in Boise had been my idea.

The Economics of Property/Casualty Insurance

      Our main business -- though we have others of great importance -- is insurance. To understand Berkshire, therefore, it is necessary that you understand how to evaluate an insurance company. The key determinants are: (1) the amount of float that the business generates; (2) its cost; and (3) most critical of all, the long-term outlook for both of these factors.

     To begin with, float is money we hold but don't own. In an insurance operation, float arises because premiums are received before losses are paid, an interval that sometimes extends over many years. During that time, the insurer invests the money. This pleasant activity typically carries with it a downside: The premiums that an insurer takes in usually do not cover the losses and expenses it eventually must pay. That leaves it running an "underwriting loss," which is the cost of float. An insurance business has value if its cost of float over time is less than the cost the company would otherwise incur to obtain funds. But the business is a lemon if its cost of float is higher than market rates for money.

     A caution is appropriate here: Because loss costs must be estimated, insurers have enormous latitude in figuring their underwriting results, and that makes it very difficult for investors to calculate a company's true cost of float. Errors of estimation, usually innocent but sometimes not, can be huge. The consequences of these miscalculations flow directly into earnings. An experienced observer can usually detect large-scale errors in reserving, but the general public can typically do no more than accept what's presented, and at times I have been amazed by the numbers that big-name auditors have implicitly blessed. In 1999 a number of insurers announced reserve adjustments that made a mockery of the "earnings" that investors had relied on earlier when making their buy and sell decisions. At Berkshire, we strive to be conservative and consistent in our reserving. Even so, we warn you that an unpleasant surprise is always possible.

     The table that follows shows (at intervals) the float generated by the various segments of Berkshire's insurance operations since we entered the business 33 years ago upon acquiring National Indemnity Company (whose traditional lines are included in the segment "Other Primary"). For the table we have calculated our float -- which we generate in large amounts relative to our premium volume -- by adding net loss reserves, loss adjustment reserves, funds held under reinsurance assumed and unearned premium reserves, and then subtracting agents balances, prepaid acquisition costs, prepaid taxes and deferred charges applicable to assumed reinsurance. (Got that?)

Yearend Float (in $ millions)


Year


GEICO


General Re
Other
Reinsurance
Other
Primary


Total
1967 20 20
1977 40 131 171
1987 701 807 1,508
1997 2,917 4,014 455 7,386
           
1998 3,125 14,909 4,305 415 22,754
1999 3,444 15,166 6,285 403 25,298

     Growth of float is important -- but its cost is what's vital. Over the years we have usually recorded only a small underwriting loss -- which means our cost of float was correspondingly low -- or actually had an underwriting profit, which means we were being paid for holding other people's money. Indeed, our cumulative result through 1998 was an underwriting profit. In 1999, however, we incurred a $1.4 billion underwriting loss that left us with float cost of 5.8%. One mildly mitigating factor: We enthusiastically welcomed $400 million of the loss because it stems from business that will deliver us exceptional float over the next decade. The balance of the loss, however, was decidedly unwelcome, and our overall result must be judged extremely poor. Absent a mega-catastrophe, we expect float cost to fall in 2000, but any decline will be tempered by our aggressive plans for GEICO, which we will discuss later.

      There are a number of people who deserve credit for manufacturing so much "no-cost" float over the years. Foremost is Ajit Jain. It's simply impossible to overstate Ajit's value to Berkshire: He has from scratch built an outstanding reinsurance business, which during his tenure has earned an underwriting profit and now holds $6.3 billion of float.

     In Ajit, we have an underwriter equipped with the intelligence to properly rate most risks; the realism to forget about those he can't evaluate; the courage to write huge policies when the premium is appropriate; and the discipline to reject even the smallest risk when the premium is inadequate. It is rare to find a person possessing any one of these talents. For one person to have them all is remarkable.

     Since Ajit specializes in super-cat reinsurance, a line in which losses are infrequent but extremely large when they occur, his business is sure to be far more volatile than most insurance operations. To date, we have benefitted from good luck on this volatile book. Even so, Ajit's achievements are truly extraordinary.

     In a smaller but nevertheless important way, our "other primary" insurance operation has also added to Berkshire's intrinsic value. This collection of insurers has delivered a $192 million underwriting profit over the past five years while supplying us with the float shown in the table. In the insurance world, results like this are uncommon, and for their feat we thank Rod Eldred, Brad Kinstler, John Kizer, Don Towle and Don Wurster.

      As I mentioned earlier, the General Re operation had an exceptionally poor underwriting year in 1999 (though investment income left the company well in the black). Our business was extremely underpriced, both domestically and internationally, a condition that is improving but not yet corrected. Over time, however, the company should develop a growing amount of low-cost float. At both General Re and its Cologne subsidiary, incentive compensation plans are now directly tied to the variables of float growth and cost of float, the same variables that determine value for owners.

      Even though a reinsurer may have a tightly focused and rational compensation system, it cannot count on every year coming up roses. Reinsurance is a highly volatile business, and neither General Re nor Ajit's operation is immune to bad pricing behavior in the industry. But General Re has the distribution, the underwriting skills, the culture, and -- with Berkshire's backing -- the financial clout to become the world's most profitable reinsurance company. Getting there will take time, energy and discipline, but we have no doubt that Ron Ferguson and his crew can make it happen.

GEICO (1-800-847-7536 or GEICO.com)

     GEICO made exceptional progress in 1999. The reasons are simple: We have a terrific business idea being implemented by an extraordinary manager, Tony Nicely. When Berkshire purchased GEICO at the beginning of 1996, we handed the keys to Tony and asked him to run the operation exactly as if he owned 100% of it. He has done the rest. Take a look at his scorecard:

New Auto
Auto Policies
Years
Policies(1)(2)
In-Force(1)
1993 346,882 2,011,055
1994 384,217 2,147,549
1995 443,539 2,310,037
1996 592,300 2,543,699
1997 868,430 2,949,439
1998 1,249,875 3,562,644
1999 1,648,095 4,328,900

(1) "Voluntary" only; excludes assigned risks and the like.
(2) Revised to exclude policies moved from one GEICO company to another.

 

     In 1995, GEICO spent $33 million on marketing and had 652 telephone counselors. Last year the company spent $242 million, and the counselor count grew to 2,631. And we are just starting: The pace will step up materially in 2000. Indeed, we would happily commit $1 billion annually to marketing if we knew we could handle the business smoothly and if we expected the last dollar spent to produce new business at an attractive cost.

      Currently two trends are affecting acquisition costs. The bad news is that it has become more expensive to develop inquiries. Media rates have risen, and we are also seeing diminishing returns -- that is, as both we and our competitors step up advertising, inquiries per ad fall for all of us. These negatives are partly offset, however, by the fact that our closure ratio -- the percentage of inquiries converted to sales -- has steadily improved. Overall, we believe that our cost of new business, though definitely rising, is well below that of the industry. Of even greater importance, our operating costs for renewal business are the lowest among broad-based national auto insurers. Both of these major competitive advantages are sustainable. Others may copy our model, but they will be unable to replicate our economics.

     The table above makes it appear that GEICO's retention of policyholders is falling, but for two reasons appearances are in this case deceiving. First, in the last few years our business mix has moved away from "preferred" policyholders, for whom industrywide retention rates are high, toward "standard" and "non-standard" policyholders for whom retention rates are much lower. (Despite the nomenclature, the three classes have similar profit prospects.) Second, retention rates for relatively new policyholders are always lower than those for long-time customers -- and because of our accelerated growth, our policyholder ranks now include an increased proportion of new customers. Adjusted for these two factors, our retention rate has changed hardly at all.

     We told you last year that underwriting margins for both GEICO and the industry would fall in 1999, and they did. We make a similar prediction for 2000. A few years ago margins got too wide, having enjoyed the effects of an unusual and unexpected decrease in the frequency and severity of accidents. The industry responded by reducing rates -- but now is having to contend with an increase in loss costs. We would not be surprised to see the margins of auto insurers deteriorate by around three percentage points in 2000.

     Two negatives besides worsening frequency and severity will hurt the industry this year. First, rate increases go into effect only slowly, both because of regulatory delay and because insurance contracts must run their course before new rates can be put in. Second, reported earnings of many auto insurers have benefitted in the last few years from reserve releases, made possible because the companies overestimated their loss costs in still-earlier years. This reservoir of redundant reserves has now largely dried up, and future boosts to earnings from this source will be minor at best.

     In compensating its associates -- from Tony on down -- GEICO continues to use two variables, and only two, in determining what bonuses and profit-sharing contributions will be: 1) its percentage growth in policyholders and 2) the earnings of its "seasoned" business, meaning policies that have been with us for more than a year. We did outstandingly well on both fronts during 1999 and therefore made a profit-sharing payment of 28.4% of salary (in total, $113.3 million) to the great majority of our associates. Tony and I love writing those checks.

     At Berkshire, we want to have compensation policies that are both easy to understand and in sync with what we wish our associates to accomplish. Writing new business is expensive (and, as mentioned, getting more expensive). If we were to include those costs in our calculation of bonuses -- as managements did before our arrival at GEICO -- we would be penalizing our associates for garnering new policies, even though these are very much in Berkshire's interest. So, in effect, we say to our associates that we will foot the bill for new business. Indeed, because percentage growth in policyholders is part of our compensation scheme, we reward our associates for producing this initially-unprofitable business. And then we reward them additionally for holding down costs on our seasoned business.

     Despite the extensive advertising we do, our best source of new business is word-of-mouth recommendations from existing policyholders, who on the whole are pleased with our prices and service. An article published last year by Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine gives a good picture of where we stand in customer satisfaction: The magazine's survey of 20 state insurance departments showed that GEICO's complaint ratio was well below the ratio for most of its major competitors.

     Our strong referral business means that we probably could maintain our policy count by spending as little as $50 million annually on advertising. That's a guess, of course, and we will never know whether it is accurate because Tony's foot is going to stay on the advertising pedal (and my foot will be on his). Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that a major percentage of the $300-$350 million we will spend in 2000 on advertising, as well as large additional costs we will incur for sales counselors, communications and facilities, are optional outlays we choose to make so that we can both achieve significant growth and extend and solidify the promise of the GEICO brand in the minds of Americans.

     Personally, I think these expenditures are the best investment Berkshire can make. Through its advertising, GEICO is acquiring a direct relationship with a huge number of households that, on average, will send us $1,100 year after year. That makes us -- among all companies, selling whatever kind of product -- one of the country's leading direct merchandisers. Also, as we build our long-term relationships with more and more families, cash is pouring in rather than going out (no Internet economics here). Last year, as GEICO increased its customer base by 766,256, it gained $590 million of cash from operating earnings and the increase in float.

     In the past three years, we have increased our market share in personal auto insurance from 2.7% to 4.1%. But we rightfully belong in many more households -- maybe even yours. Give us a call and find out. About 40% of those people checking our rates find that they can save money by doing business with us. The proportion is not 100% because insurers differ in their underwriting judgments, with some giving more credit than we do to drivers who live in certain geographic areas or work at certain occupations. Our closure rate indicates, however, that we more frequently offer the low price than does any other national carrier selling insurance to all comers. Furthermore, in 40 states we can offer a special discount -- usually 8% -- to our shareholders. Just be sure to identify yourself as a Berkshire owner so that our sales counselor can make the appropriate adjustment.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


     It's with sadness that I report to you that Lorimer Davidson, GEICO's former Chairman, died last November, a few days after his 97th birthday. For GEICO, Davy was a business giant who moved the company up to the big leagues. For me, he was a friend, teacher and hero. I have told you of his lifelong kindnesses to me in past reports. Clearly, my life would have developed far differently had he not been a part of it. Tony, Lou Simpson and I visited Davy in August and marveled at his mental alertness -- particularly in all matters regarding GEICO. He was the company's number one supporter right up to the end, and we will forever miss him.

Aviation Services

     Our two aviation services companies -- FlightSafety International ("FSI") and Executive Jet Aviation ("EJA") -- are both runaway leaders in their field. EJA, which sells and manages the fractional ownership of jet aircraft, through its NetJets® program, is larger than its next two competitors combined. FSI trains pilots (as well as other transportation professionals) and is five times or so the size of its nearest competitor.

     Another common characteristic of the companies is that they are still managed by their founding entrepreneurs. Al Ueltschi started FSI in 1951 with $10,000, and Rich Santulli invented the fractional-ownership industry in 1986. These men are both remarkable managers who have no financial need to work but thrive on helping their companies grow and excel.

     Though these two businesses have leadership positions that are similar, they differ in their economic characteristics. FSI must lay out huge amounts of capital. A single flight simulator can cost as much as $15 million -- and we have 222. Only one person at a time, furthermore, can be trained in a simulator, which means that the capital investment per dollar of revenue at FSI is exceptionally high. Operating margins must therefore also be high, if we are to earn a reasonable return on capital. Last year we made capital expenditures of $215 million at FSI and FlightSafety Boeing, its 50%-owned affiliate.

     At EJA, in contrast, the customer owns the equipment, though we, of course, must invest in a core fleet of our own planes to ensure outstanding service. For example, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, EJA's busiest day of the year, strains our resources since fractions of 169 planes are owned by 1,412 customers, many of whom are bent on flying home between 3 and 6 p.m. On that day, and certain others, we need a supply of company-owned aircraft to make sure all parties get where they want, when they want.

      Still, most of the planes we fly are owned by customers, which means that modest pre-tax margins in this business can produce good returns on equity. Currently, our customers own planes worth over $2 billion, and in addition we have $4.2 billion of planes on order. Indeed, the limiting factor in our business right now is the availability of planes. We now are taking delivery of about 8% of all business jets manufactured in the world, and we wish we could get a bigger share than that. Though EJA was supply-constrained in 1999, its recurring revenues -- monthly management fees plus hourly flight fees -- increased 46%.

      The fractional-ownership industry is still in its infancy. EJA is now building critical mass in Europe, and over time we will expand around the world. Doing that will be expensive -- very expensive -- but we will spend what it takes. Scale is vital to both us and our customers: The company with the most planes in the air worldwide will be able to offer its customers the best service. "Buy a fraction, get a fleet" has real meaning at EJA.

     EJA enjoys another important advantage in that its two largest competitors are both subsidiaries of aircraft manufacturers and sell only the aircraft their parents make. Though these are fine planes, these competitors are severely limited in the cabin styles and mission capabilities they can offer. EJA, in contrast, offers a wide array of planes from five suppliers. Consequently, we can give the customer whatever he needs to buy -- rather than his getting what the competitor's parent needs to sell.

     Last year in this report, I described my family's delight with the one-quarter (200 flight hours annually) of a Hawker 1000 that we had owned since 1995. I got so pumped up by my own prose that shortly thereafter I signed up for one-sixteenth of a Cessna V Ultra as well. Now my annual outlays at EJA and Borsheim's, combined, total ten times my salary. Think of this as a rough guideline for your own expenditures with us.

     During the past year, two of Berkshire's outside directors have also signed on with EJA. (Maybe we're paying them too much.) You should be aware that they and I are charged exactly the same price for planes and service as is any other customer: EJA follows a "most favored nations" policy, with no one getting a special deal.

     And now, brace yourself. Last year, EJA passed the ultimate test: Charlie signed up. No other endorsement could speak more eloquently to the value of the EJA service. Give us a call at 1-800-848-6436 and ask for our "white paper" on fractional ownership.

Acquisitions of 1999

     At both GEICO and Executive Jet, our best source of new customers is the happy ones we already have. Indeed, about 65% of our new owners of aircraft come as referrals from current owners who have fallen in love with the service.

     Our acquisitions usually develop in the same way. At other companies, executives may devote themselves to pursuing acquisition possibilities with investment bankers, utilizing an auction process that has become standardized. In this exercise the bankers prepare a "book" that makes me think of the Superman comics of my youth. In the Wall Street version, a formerly mild-mannered company emerges from the investment banker's phone booth able to leap over competitors in a single bound and with earnings moving faster than a speeding bullet. Titillated by the book's description of the acquiree's powers, acquisition-hungry CEOs -- Lois Lanes all, beneath their cool exteriors -- promptly swoon.

     What's particularly entertaining in these books is the precision with which earnings are projected for many years ahead. If you ask the author-banker, however, what his own firm will earn next month, he will go into a protective crouch and tell you that business and markets are far too uncertain for him to venture a forecast.

     Here's one story I can't resist relating: In 1985, a major investment banking house undertook to sell Scott Fetzer, offering it widely -- but with no success. Upon reading of this strikeout, I wrote Ralph Schey, then and now Scott Fetzer's CEO, expressing an interest in buying the business. I had never met Ralph, but within a week we had a deal. Unfortunately, Scott Fetzer's letter of engagement with the banking firm provided it a $2.5 million fee upon sale, even if it had nothing to do with finding the buyer. I guess the lead banker felt he should do something for his payment, so he graciously offered us a copy of the book on Scott Fetzer that his firm had prepared. With his customary tact, Charlie responded: "I'll pay $2.5 million not to read it."

     At Berkshire, our carefully-crafted acquisition strategy is simply to wait for the phone to ring. Happily, it sometimes does so, usually because a manager who sold to us earlier has recommended to a friend that he think about following suit.

     Which brings us to the furniture business. Two years ago I recounted how the acquisition of Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1983 and my subsequent association with the Blumkin family led to follow-on transactions with R. C. Willey (1995) and Star Furniture (1997). For me, these relationships have all been terrific. Not only did Berkshire acquire three outstanding retailers; these deals also allowed me to become friends with some of the finest people you will ever meet.

     Naturally, I have persistently asked the Blumkins, Bill Child and Melvyn Wolff whether there are any more out there like you. Their invariable answer was the Tatelman brothers of New England and their remarkable furniture business, Jordan's.

     I met Barry and Eliot Tatelman last year and we soon signed an agreement for Berkshire to acquire the company. Like our three previous furniture acquisitions, this business had long been in the family -- in this case since 1927, when Barry and Eliot's grandfather began operations in a Boston suburb. Under the brothers' management, Jordan's has grown ever more dominant in its region, becoming the largest furniture retailer in New Hampshire as well as Massachusetts.

     The Tatelmans don't just sell furniture or manage stores. They also present customers with a dazzling entertainment experience called "shoppertainment." A family visiting a store can have a terrific time, while concurrently viewing an extraordinary selection of merchandise. The business results are also extraordinary: Jordan's has the highest sales per square foot of any major furniture operation in the country. I urge you to visit one of their stores if you are in the Boston area -- particularly the one at Natick, which is Jordan's newest. Bring money.

     Barry and Eliot are classy people -- just like their counterparts at Berkshire's three other furniture operations. When they sold to us, they elected to give each of their employees at least 50 for every hour that he or she had worked for Jordan's. This payment added up to $9 million, which came from the Tatelmans' own pockets, not from Berkshire's. And Barry and Eliot were thrilled to write the checks.

     Each of our furniture operations is number one in its territory. We now sell more furniture than anyone else in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Texas, Nebraska, Utah and Idaho. Last year Star's Melvyn Wolff and his sister, Shirley Toomim, scored two major successes: a move into San Antonio and a significant enlargement of Star's store in Austin.

     There's no operation in the furniture retailing business remotely like the one assembled by Berkshire. It's fun for me and profitable for you. W. C. Fields once said, "It was a woman who drove me to drink, but unfortunately I never had the chance to thank her." I don't want to make that mistake. My thanks go to Louie, Ron and Irv Blumkin for getting me started in the furniture business and for unerringly guiding me as we have assembled the group we now have.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

     Now, for our second acquisition deal: It came to us through my good friend, Walter Scott, Jr., chairman of Level 3 Communications and a director of Berkshire. Walter has many other business connections as well, and one of them is with MidAmerican Energy, a utility company in which he has substantial holdings and on whose board he sits. At a conference in California that we both attended last September, Walter casually asked me whether Berkshire might be interested in making a large investment in MidAmerican, and from the start the idea of being in partnership with Walter struck me as a good one. Upon returning to Omaha, I read some of MidAmerican's public reports and had two short meetings with Walter and David Sokol, MidAmerican's talented and entrepreneurial CEO. I then said that, at an appropriate price, we would indeed like to make a deal.

     Acquisitions in the electric utility industry are complicated by a variety of regulations including the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935. Therefore, we had to structure a transaction that would avoid Berkshire gaining voting control. Instead we are purchasing an 11% fixed-income security, along with a combination of common stock and exchangeable preferred that will give Berkshire just under 10% of the voting power of MidAmerican but about 76% of the equity interest. All told, our investment will be about $2 billion.

     Walter characteristically backed up his convictions with real money: He and his family will buy more MidAmerican stock for cash when the transaction closes, bringing their total investment to about $280 million. Walter will also be the controlling shareholder of the company, and I can't think of a better person to hold that post.

     Though there are many regulatory constraints in the utility industry, it's possible that we will make additional commitments in the field. If we do, the amounts involved could be large.

Acquisition Accounting

     Once again, I would like to make some comments about accounting, in this case about its application to acquisitions. This is currently a very contentious topic and, before the dust settles, Congress may even intervene (a truly terrible idea).

     When a company is acquired, generally accepted accounting principles ("GAAP") currently condone two very different ways of recording the transaction: "purchase" and "pooling." In a pooling, stock must be the currency; in a purchase, payment can be made in either cash or stock. Whatever the currency, managements usually detest purchase accounting because it almost always requires that a "goodwill" account be established and subsequently written off -- a process that saddles earnings with a large annual charge that normally persists for decades. In contrast, pooling avoids a goodwill account, which is why managements love it.

     Now, the Financial Accounting Standards Board ("FASB") has proposed an end to pooling, and many CEOs are girding for battle. It will be an important fight, so we'll venture some opinions. To begin with, we agree with the many managers who argue that goodwill amortization charges are usually spurious. You'll find my thinking about this in the appendix to our 1983 annual report, which is available on our website, and in the Owner's Manual on pages 55 - 62.

     For accounting rules to mandate amortization that will, in the usual case, conflict with reality is deeply troublesome: Most accounting charges relate to what's going on, even if they don't precisely measure it. As an example, depreciation charges can't with precision calibrate the decline in value that physical assets suffer, but these charges do at least describe something that is truly occurring: Physical assets invariably deteriorate. Correspondingly, obsolescence charges for inventories, bad debt charges for receivables and accruals for warranties are among the charges that reflect true costs. The annual charges for these expenses can't be exactly measured, but the necessity for estimating them is obvious.

     In contrast, economic goodwill does not, in many cases, diminish. Indeed, in a great many instances -- perhaps most -- it actually grows in value over time. In character, economic goodwill is much like land: The value of both assets is sure to fluctuate, but the direction in which value is going to go is in no way ordained. At See's, for example, economic goodwill has grown, in an irregular but very substantial manner, for 78 years. And, if we run the business right, growth of that kind will probably continue for at least another 78 years.

     To escape from the fiction of goodwill charges, managers embrace the fiction of pooling. This accounting convention is grounded in the poetic notion that when two rivers merge their streams become indistinguishable. Under this concept, a company that has been merged into a larger enterprise has not been "purchased" (even though it will often have received a large "sell-out" premium). Consequently, no goodwill is created, and those pesky subsequent charges to earnings are eliminated. Instead, the accounting for the ongoing entity is handled as if the businesses had forever been one unit.

     So much for poetry. The reality of merging is usually far different: There is indisputably an acquirer and an acquiree, and the latter has been "purchased," no matter how the deal has been structured. If you think otherwise, just ask employees severed from their jobs which company was the conqueror and which was the conquered. You will find no confusion. So on this point the FASB is correct: In most mergers, a purchase has been made. Yes, there are some true "mergers of equals," but they are few and far between.

     Charlie and I believe there's a reality-based approach that should both satisfy the FASB, which correctly wishes to record a purchase, and meet the objections of managements to nonsensical charges for diminution of goodwill. We would first have the acquiring company record its purchase price -- whether paid in stock or cash -- at fair value. In most cases, this procedure would create a large asset representing economic goodwill. We would then leave this asset on the books, not requiring its amortization. Later, if the economic goodwill became impaired, as it sometimes would, it would be written down just as would any other asset judged to be impaired.

     If our proposed rule were to be adopted, it should be applied retroactively so that acquisition accounting would be consistent throughout America -- a far cry from what exists today. One prediction: If this plan were to take effect, managements would structure acquisitions more sensibly, deciding whether to use cash or stock based on the real consequences for their shareholders rather than on the unreal consequences for their reported earnings.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

     In our purchase of Jordan's, we followed a procedure that will maximize the cash produced for our shareholders but minimize the earnings we report to you. Berkshire purchased assets for cash, an approach that on our tax returns permits us to amortize the resulting goodwill over a 15-year period. Obviously, this tax deduction materially increases the amount of cash delivered by the business. In contrast, when stock, rather than assets, is purchased for cash, the resulting writeoffs of goodwill are not tax-deductible. The economic difference between these two approaches is substantial.

     From the economic standpoint of the acquiring company, the worst deal of all is a stock-for-stock acquisition. Here, a huge price is often paid without there being any step-up in the tax basis of either the stock of the acquiree or its assets. If the acquired entity is subsequently sold, its owner may owe a large capital gains tax (at a 35% or greater rate), even though the sale may truly be producing a major economic loss.

     We have made some deals at Berkshire that used far-from-optimal tax structures. These deals occurred because the sellers insisted on a given structure and because, overall, we still felt the acquisition made sense. We have never done an inefficiently-structured deal, however, in order to make our figures look better.

Sources of Reported Earnings

     The table that follows shows the main sources of Berkshire's reported earnings. In this presentation, purchase-accounting adjustments are not assigned to 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. For the reasons discussed on page 61, this form of presentation seems to us to be more useful to investors and managers than one utilizing generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), which require purchase-premiums to be charged off business-by-business. The total earnings we show in the table are, of course, identical to the GAAP total in our audited financial statements.
(in millions)
Berkshire's Share
of Net Earnings
(after taxes and
Pre-Tax Earnings
minority interests)
1999
1998
1999
1998
Operating Earnings:
  Insurance Group:
   Underwriting -- Reinsurance .................... $(1,440) $(21) $(927) $(14)
   Underwriting -- GEICO .......................... 24 269 16 175
   Underwriting -- Other Primary ................. 22 17 14 10
   Net Investment Income ............................ 2,482 974 1,764 731
  Buffalo News ........................................... 55 53 34 32
  Finance and Financial Products Businesses 125 205 86 133
  Flight Services ......................................... 225 181 (1) 132 110 (1)
  Home Furnishings .................................... 79 (2) 72 46 (2) 41
  International Dairy Queen ........................ 56 58 35 35
  Jewelry ................................................... 51 39 31 23
  Scott Fetzer (excluding finance operation) 147 137 92 85
  See's Candies ......................................... 74 62 46 40
  Shoe Group ............................................ 17 33 11 23
  Purchase-Accounting Adjustments ......... (739) (123) (648) (118)
  Interest Expense (3) ............................... (109) (100) (70) (63)
  Shareholder-Designated Contributions .... (17) (17) (11) (11)
  Other ...................................................... 33 60 (4) 20 45 (4)
Operating Earnings .................................... 1,085 1,899 671 1,277
Capital Gains from Investments ................. 1,365 2,415 886 1,553
Total Earnings - All Entities ....................... $2,450 $4,314 $1,557 $ 2,830
  ===== ===== ===== =====

(1) Includes Executive Jet from August 7, 1998. (3) Excludes interest expense of Finance Businesses.

(2) Includes Jordan's Furniture from November 13, 1999.

(4) Includes General Re operations for ten days in 1998.

     Almost all of our manufacturing, retailing and service businesses had excellent results in 1999. The exception was Dexter Shoe, and there the shortfall did not occur because of managerial problems: In skills, energy and devotion to their work, the Dexter executives are every bit the equal of our other managers. But we manufacture shoes primarily in the U.S., and it has become extremely difficult for domestic producers to compete effectively. In 1999, approximately 93% of the 1.3 billion pairs of shoes purchased in this country came from abroad, where extremely low-cost labor is the rule.

     Counting both Dexter and H. H. Brown, we are currently the leading domestic manufacturer of shoes, and we are likely to continue to be. We have loyal, highly-skilled workers in our U.S. plants, and we want to retain every job here that we can. Nevertheless, in order to remain viable, we are sourcing more of our output internationally. In doing that, we have incurred significant severance and relocation costs that are included in the earnings we show in the table.

     A few years back, Helzberg's, our 200-store jewelry operation, needed to make operating adjustments to restore margins to appropriate levels. Under Jeff Comment's leadership, the job was done and profits have dramatically rebounded. In the shoe business, where we have Harold Alfond, Peter Lunder, Frank Rooney and Jim Issler in charge, I believe we will see a similar improvement over the next few years.

     See's Candies deserves a special comment, given that it achieved a record operating margin of 24% last year. Since we bought See's for $25 million in 1972, it has earned $857 million pre-tax. And, despite its growth, the business has required very little additional capital. Give the credit for this performance to Chuck Huggins. Charlie and I put him in charge the day of our purchase, and his fanatical insistence on both product quality and friendly service has rewarded customers, employees and owners.

     Chuck gets better every year. When he took charge of See's at age 46, the company's pre-tax profit, expressed in millions, was about 10% of his age. Today he's 74, and the ratio has increased to 100%. Having discovered this mathematical relationship -- let's call it Huggins' Law -- Charlie and I now become giddy at the mere thought of Chuck's birthday.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

     Additional information about our various businesses is given on pages 39 - 54, where you will also find our segment earnings reported on a GAAP basis. In addition, on pages 63 - 69, we have rearranged Berkshire's financial data into four segments on a non-GAAP basis, a presentation that corresponds to the way Charlie and I think about the company.

Look-Through Earnings

     Reported earnings are an inadequate measure of economic progress at Berkshire, in part because the numbers shown in the table presented earlier include only the dividends we receive from investees -- though these dividends typically represent only a small fraction of the earnings attributable to our ownership. Not that we mind this division of money, since on balance we regard the undistributed earnings of investees as more valuable to us than the portion paid out. The reason for our thinking is simple: Our investees often have the opportunity to reinvest earnings at high rates of return. So why should we want them paid out?

     To depict something closer to economic reality at Berkshire than reported earnings, though, we employ the concept of "look-through" earnings. As we calculate these, they consist of: (1) the operating earnings reported in the previous section, plus; (2) our share of the retained operating earnings of major investees that, under GAAP accounting, are not reflected in our profits, less; (3) an allowance for the tax that would be paid by Berkshire if these retained earnings of investees had instead been distributed to us. When tabulating "operating earnings" here, we exclude purchase-accounting adjustments as well as capital gains and other major non-recurring items.

     The following table sets forth our 1999 look-through earnings, though I warn you that the figures can be no more than approximate, since they are based on a number of judgment calls. (The dividends paid to us by these investees have been included in the operating earnings itemized on page 13, mostly under "Insurance Group: Net Investment Income.")

 
  Berkshire's Approximate Berkshire's Share of Undistributed
Berkshire's Major Investees Ownership at Yearend(1) Operating Earnings (in millions)(2)
 
American Express Company ...........
11.3%
$228
The Coca-Cola Company ...............
8.1%
144
Freddie Mac ..................................
8.6%
127
The Gillette Company ....................
9.0%
53
M&T Bank ...................................
6.5%
17
The Washington Post Company .....
18.3%
30
Wells Fargo & Company ...............
3.6%
108
     
Berkshire's share of undistributed earnings of major investees
707
Hypothetical tax on these undistributed investee earnings(3)
(99)
Reported operating earnings of Berkshire
1,318
     Total look-through earnings of Berkshire
$ 1,926
   
=====

     (1) Does not include shares allocable to minority interests
     (2) Calculated on average ownership for the year
     (3) The tax rate used is 14%, which is the rate Berkshire pays on the dividends it receives

Investments

     Below we present our common stock investments. Those that had a market value of more than $750 million at the end of 1999 are itemized.
      12/31/99
Shares   Company Cost* Market
      (dollars in millions)
50,536,900   American Express Company ....... $1,470 $ 8,402
200,000,000   The Coca-Cola Company ........ 1,299 11,650
59,559,300   Freddie Mac ................ 294 2,803
96,000,000   The Gillette Company .......... 600 3,954
1,727,765   The Washington Post Company ....... 11 960
59,136,680   Wells Fargo & Company ........ 349 2,391
    Others ...................... 4,180 6,848
    Total Common Stocks ............. $8,203 $37,008
      ===== ======

* Represents tax-basis cost which, in aggregate, is $691 million less than GAAP cost.

     We made few portfolio changes in 1999. As I mentioned earlier, several of the companies in which we have large investments had disappointing business results last year. Nevertheless, we believe these companies have important competitive advantages that will endure over time. This attribute, which makes for good long-term investment results, is one Charlie and I occasionally believe we can identify. More often, however, we can't -- not at least with a high degree of conviction. This explains, by the way, why we don't own stocks of tech companies, even though we share the general view that our society will be transformed by their products and services. Our problem -- which we can't solve by studying up -- is that we have no insights into which participants in the tech field possess a truly durable competitive advantage.

     Our lack of tech insights, we should add, does not distress us. After all, there are a great many business areas in which Charlie and I have no special capital-allocation expertise. For instance, we bring nothing to the table when it comes to evaluating patents, manufacturing processes or geological prospects. So we simply don't get into judgments in those fields.

     If we have a strength, it is in recognizing when we are operating well within our circle of competence and when we are approaching the perimeter. Predicting the long-term economics of companies that operate in fast-changing industries is simply far beyond our perimeter. If others claim predictive skill in those industries -- and seem to have their claims validated by the behavior of the stock market -- we neither envy nor emulate them. Instead, we just stick with what we understand. If we stray, we will have done so inadvertently, not because we got restless and substituted hope for rationality. Fortunately, it's almost certain there will be opportunities from time to time for Berkshire to do well within the circle we've staked out.

     Right now, the prices of the fine businesses we already own are just not that attractive. In other words, we feel much better about the businesses than their stocks. That's why we haven't added to our present holdings. Nevertheless, we haven't yet scaled back our portfolio in a major way: If the choice is between a questionable business at a comfortable price or a comfortable business at a questionable price, we much prefer the latter. What really gets our attention, however, is a comfortable business at a comfortable price.

     Our reservations about the prices of securities we own apply also to the general level of equity prices. We have never attempted to forecast what the stock market is going to do in the next month or the next year, and we are not trying to do that now. But, as I point out in the enclosed article, equity investors currently seem wildly optimistic in their expectations about future returns.

     We see the growth in corporate profits as being largely tied to the business done in the country (GDP), and we see GDP growing at a real rate of about 3%. In addition, we have hypothesized 2% inflation. Charlie and I have no particular conviction about the accuracy of 2%. However, it's the market's view: Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) yield about two percentage points less than the standard treasury bond, and if you believe inflation rates are going to be higher than that, you can profit by simply buying TIPS and shorting Governments.

     If profits do indeed grow along with GDP, at about a 5% rate, the valuation placed on American business is unlikely to climb by much more than that. Add in something for dividends, and you emerge with returns from equities that are dramatically less than most investors have either experienced in the past or expect in the future. If investor expectations become more realistic -- and they almost certainly will -- the market adjustment is apt to be severe, particularly in sectors in which speculation has been concentrated.

     Berkshire will someday have opportunities to deploy major amounts of cash in equity markets -- we are confident of that. But, as the song goes, "Who knows where or when?" Meanwhile, if anyone starts explaining to you what is going on in the truly-manic portions of this "enchanted" market, you might remember still another line of song: "Fools give you reasons, wise men never try."

Share Repurchases

     Recently, a number of shareholders have suggested to us that Berkshire repurchase its shares. Usually the requests were rationally based, but a few leaned on spurious logic.

     There is only one combination of facts that makes it advisable for a company to repurchase its shares: First, the company has available funds -- cash plus sensible borrowing capacity -- beyond the near-term needs of the business and, second, finds its stock selling in the market below its intrinsic value, conservatively-calculated. To this we add a caveat: Shareholders should have been supplied all the information they need for estimating that value. Otherwise, insiders could take advantage of their uninformed partners and buy out their interests at a fraction of true worth. We have, on rare occasions, seen that happen. Usually, of course, chicanery is employed to drive stock prices up, not down.

     The business "needs" that I speak of are of two kinds: First, expenditures that a company must make to maintain its competitive position (e.g., the remodeling of stores at Helzberg's) and, second, optional outlays, aimed at business growth, that management expects will produce more than a dollar of value for each dollar spent (R. C. Willey's expansion into Idaho).

     When available funds exceed needs of those kinds, a company with a growth-oriented shareholder population can buy new businesses or repurchase shares. If a company's stock is selling well below intrinsic value, repurchases usually make the most sense. In the mid-1970s, the wisdom of making these was virtually screaming at managements, but few responded. In most cases, those that did made their owners much wealthier than if alternative courses of action had been pursued. Indeed, during the 1970s (and, spasmodically, for some years thereafter) we searched for companies that were large repurchasers of their shares. This often was a tipoff that the company was both undervalued and run by a shareholder-oriented management.

     That day is past. Now, repurchases are all the rage, but are all too often made for an unstated and, in our view, ignoble reason: to pump or support the stock price. The shareholder who chooses to sell today, of course, is benefitted by any buyer, whatever his origin or motives. But the continuing shareholder is penalized by repurchases above intrinsic value. Buying dollar bills for $1.10 is not good business for those who stick around.

     Charlie and I admit that we feel confident in estimating intrinsic value for only a portion of traded equities and then only when we employ a range of values, rather than some pseudo-precise figure. Nevertheless, it appears to us that many companies now making repurchases are overpaying departing shareholders at the expense of those who stay. In defense of those companies, I would say that it is natural for CEOs to be optimistic about their own businesses. They also know a whole lot more about them than I do. However, I can't help but feel that too often today's repurchases are dictated by management's desire to "show confidence" or be in fashion rather than by a desire to enhance per-share value.

     Sometimes, too, companies say they are repurchasing shares to offset the shares issued when stock options granted at much lower prices are exercised. This "buy high, sell low" strategy is one many unfortunate investors have employed -- but never intentionally! Managements, however, seem to follow this perverse activity very cheerfully.

     Of course, both option grants and repurchases may make sense -- but if that's the case, it's not because the two activities are logically related. Rationally, a company's decision to repurchase shares or to issue them should stand on its own feet. Just because stock has been issued to satisfy options -- or for any other reason -- does not mean that stock should be repurchased at a price above intrinsic value. Correspondingly, a stock that sells well below intrinsic value should be repurchased whether or not stock has previously been issued (or may be because of outstanding options).

     You should be aware that, at certain times in the past, I have erred in not making repurchases. My appraisal of Berkshire's value was then too conservative or I was too enthused about some alternative use of funds. We have therefore missed some opportunities -- though Berkshire's trading volume at these points was too light for us to have done much buying, which means that the gain in our per-share value would have been minimal. (A repurchase of, say, 2% of a company's shares at a 25% discount from per-share intrinsic value produces only a % gain in that value at most -- and even less if the funds could alternatively have been deployed in value-building moves.)

     Some of the letters we've received clearly imply that the writer is unconcerned about intrinsic value considerations but instead wants us to trumpet an intention to repurchase so that the stock will rise (or quit going down). If the writer wants to sell tomorrow, his thinking makes sense -- for him! -- but if he intends to hold, he should instead hope the stock falls and trades in enough volume for us to buy a lot of it. That's the only way a repurchase program can have any real benefit for a continuing shareholder.

     We will not repurchase shares unless we believe Berkshire stock is selling well below intrinsic value, conservatively calculated. Nor will we attempt to talk the stock up or down. (Neither publicly or privately have I ever told anyone to buy or sell Berkshire shares.) Instead we will give all shareholders -- and potential shareholders -- the same valuation-related information we would wish to have if our positions were reversed.

     Recently, when the A shares fell below $45,000, we considered making repurchases. We decided, however, to delay buying, if indeed we elect to do any, until shareholders have had the chance to review this report. If we do find that repurchases make sense, we will only rarely place bids on the New York Stock Exchange ("NYSE"). Instead, we will respond to offers made directly to us at or below the NYSE bid. If you wish to offer stock, have your broker call Mark Millard at 402-346-1400. When a trade occurs, the broker can either record it in the "third market" or on the NYSE. We will favor purchase of the B shares if they are selling at more than a 2% discount to the A. We will not engage in transactions involving fewer than 10 shares of A or 50 shares of B.

     Please be clear about one point: We will never make purchases with the intention of stemming a decline in Berkshire's price. Rather we will make them if and when we believe that they represent an attractive use of the Company's money. At best, repurchases are likely to have only a very minor effect on the future rate of gain in our stock's intrinsic value.

Shareholder-Designated Contributions

     About 97.3% of all eligible shares participated in Berkshire's 1999 shareholder-designated contributions program, with contributions totaling $17.2 million. A full description of the program appears on pages 70 - 71.

     Cumulatively, over the 19 years of the program, Berkshire has made contributions of $147 million pursuant to the instructions of our shareholders. The rest of Berkshire's giving is done by our subsidiaries, which stick to the philanthropic patterns that prevailed before they were acquired (except that their former owners themselves take on the responsibility for their personal charities). In aggregate, our subsidiaries made contributions of $13.8 million in 1999, including in-kind donations of $2.5 million.

     To participate in future programs, you must own Class A shares that are registered in the name of the actual owner, not the nominee name of a broker, bank or depository. Shares not so registered on August 31, 2000, will be ineligible for the 2000 program. When you get the contributions form from us, return it promptly so that it does not get put aside or forgotten. Designations received after the due date will not be honored.

The Annual Meeting

     This year's Woodstock Weekend for Capitalists will follow a format slightly different from that of recent years. We need to make a change because the Aksarben Coliseum, which served us well the past three years, is gradually being closed down. Therefore, we are relocating to the Civic Auditorium (which is on Capitol Avenue between 18th and 19th, behind the Doubletree Hotel), the only other facility in Omaha offering the space we require.

     The Civic, however, is located in downtown Omaha, and we would create a parking and traffic nightmare if we were to meet there on a weekday. We will, therefore, convene on Saturday, April 29, with the doors opening at 7 a.m., the movie beginning at 8:30 and the meeting itself commencing at 9:30. As in the past, we will run until 3:30 with a short break at noon for food, which will be available at the Civic's concession stands.

     An attachment to the proxy material that is enclosed with this report explains how you can obtain the credential you will need for admission to the meeting and other events. As for plane, hotel and car reservations, we have again signed up American Express (800-799-6634) to give you special help. In our normal fashion, we will run buses from the larger hotels to the meeting. After the meeting, the buses will make trips back to the hotels and to Nebraska Furniture Mart, Borsheim's and the airport. Even so, you are likely to find a car useful.

     We have scheduled the meeting in 2002 and 2003 on the customary first Saturday in May. In 2001, however, the Civic is already booked on that Saturday, so we will meet on April 28. The Civic should fit our needs well on any weekend, since there will then be more than ample parking in nearby lots and garages as well as on streets. We will also be able to greatly enlarge the space we give exhibitors. So, overcoming my normal commercial reticence, I will see that you have a wide display of Berkshire products at the Civic that you can purchase. As a benchmark, in 1999 shareholders bought 3,059 pounds of See's candy, $16,155 of World Book Products, 1,928 pairs of Dexter shoes, 895 sets of Quikut knives, 1,752 golf balls with the Berkshire Hathaway logo and 3,446 items of Berkshire apparel. I know you can do better.

     Last year, we also initiated the sale of at least eight fractions of Executive Jet aircraft. We will again have an array of models at the Omaha airport for your inspection on Saturday and Sunday. Ask an EJA representative at the Civic about viewing any of these planes.

     Dairy Queen will also be on hand at the Civic and again will donate all proceeds to the Children's Miracle Network. Last year we sold 4,586 Dilly® bars, fudge bars and vanilla/orange bars. Additionally, GEICO will have a booth that will be staffed by a number of our top counselors from around the country, all of them ready to supply you with auto insurance quotes. In most cases, GEICO will be able to offer you a special shareholder's discount. Bring the details of your existing insurance, and check out whether we can save you some money.

     Finally, Ajit Jain and his associates will be on hand to offer both no-commission annuities and a liability policy with jumbo limits of a size rarely available elsewhere. Talk to Ajit and learn how to protect yourself and your family against a $10 million judgment.

     NFM's newly remodeled complex, located on a 75-acre site on 72nd Street between Dodge and Pacific, is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. This operation offers an unrivaled breadth of merchandise -- furniture, electronics, appliances, carpets and computers -- all at can't-be-beat prices. In 1999 NFM did more than $300 million of business at its 72nd Street location, which in a metropolitan area of 675,000 is an absolute miracle. During the Thursday, April 27 to Monday, May 1 period, any shareholder presenting his or her meeting credential will receive a discount that is customarily given only to employees. We have offered this break to shareholders the last couple of years, and sales have been amazing. In last year's five-day "Berkshire Weekend," NFM's volume was $7.98 million, an increase of 26% from 1998 and 51% from 1997.

     Borsheim's -- the largest jewelry store in the country except for Tiffany's Manhattan store -- will have two shareholder-only events. The first will be a champagne and dessert party from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. on Friday, April 28. The second, the main gala, will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 30. On that day, Charlie and I will be on hand to sign sales tickets. Shareholder prices will be available Thursday through Monday, so if you wish to avoid the largest crowds, which will form on Friday evening and Sunday, come at other times and identify yourself as a shareholder. On Saturday, we will be open until 7 p.m. Borsheim's operates on a gross margin that is fully twenty percentage points below that of its major rivals, so be prepared to be blown away by both our prices and selection.

     In the mall outside of Borsheim's, we will again have Bob Hamman -- the best bridge player the game has ever seen -- available to play with our shareholders on Sunday. We will also have a few other experts playing at additional tables. In 1999, we had more demand than tables, but we will cure that problem this year.

     Patrick Wolff, twice US chess champion, will again be in the mall playing blindfolded against all comers. He tells me that he has never tried to play more than four games simultaneously while handicapped this way but might try to bump that limit to five or six this year. If you're a chess fan, take Patrick on -- but be sure to check his blindfold before your first move.

     Gorat's -- my favorite steakhouse -- will again be open exclusively for Berkshire shareholders on Sunday, April 30, and will be serving from 4 p.m. until about midnight. Please remember that you can't come to Gorat's on Sunday without a reservation. To make one, call 402-551-3733 on April 3 (but not before). If Sunday is sold out, try Gorat's on one of the other evenings you will be in town. I make a "quality check" of Gorat's about once a week and can report that their rare T-bone (with a double order of hash browns) is still unequaled throughout the country.

     The usual baseball game will be held at Rosenblatt Stadium at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. This year the Omaha Golden Spikes will play the Iowa Cubs. Come early, because that's when the real action takes place. Those who attended last year saw your Chairman pitch to Ernie Banks.

     This encounter proved to be the titanic duel that the sports world had long awaited. After the first few pitches -- which were not my best, but when have I ever thrown my best? -- I fired a brushback at Ernie just to let him know who was in command. Ernie charged the mound, and I charged the plate. But a clash was avoided because we became exhausted before reaching each other.

     Ernie was dissatisfied with his performance last year and has been studying the game films all winter. As you may know, Ernie had 512 home runs in his career as a Cub. Now that he has spotted telltale weaknesses in my delivery, he expects to get #513 on April 29. I, however, have learned new ways to disguise my "flutterball." Come and watch this matchup.

     I should add that I have extracted a promise from Ernie that he will not hit a "come-backer" at me since I would never be able to duck in time to avoid it. My reflexes are like Woody Allen's, who said his were so slow that he was once hit by a car being pushed by two guys.

     Our proxy statement contains instructions about obtaining tickets to the game and also a large quantity of other information that should help you enjoy your visit in Omaha. Join us at the Capitalist Caper on Capitol Avenue.

March 1, 2000

Warren E. Buffett
Chairman of the Board