Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett

Berkshire Hathaway said Saturday fourth-quarter profit vaulted 18 percent as profit rose for the year at BNSF Railway and other major business units.

Operating earnings were $4.67 billion, or $2,843 a Class A share, up from $3.96 billion, or $2,412 a Class A share, a year earlier. The operating earnings per-share beat the average Wall Street estimate of $2,766 a share compiled by Fact Set.

Full year 2015 operating earnings — which strip out investment gains and losses — were $17.3 billion, up 5 percent from $16.5 billion, a year earlier, Berkshire said Saturday. On a per-share basis, that works out to $10,564 per Class A share, from $10,071 per Class A share a year earlier.

Revenue from the dozens of operating companies from See’s Candies to Lubrizol chemicals rose 8 percent to $211 billion — more than the gross domestic product in recent years of countries such as Qatar, Venezuela and the Czech Republic.

For the year, operating earnings rose at Berkshire Hathaway Energy, BNSF Railway, the manufacturing, retail and services group and the financial services unit that includes manufactured housing company Clayton Homes.

But underwriting profit at the insurance unit that includes Geico auto coverage fell 31 percent to $1.8 billion. BNSF was the largest earner, with operating earnings of $4.2 billion, up 11 percent from 2014.

Insurance float, or the money the insurance units have collected in premiums but not paid out in claims, rose 4 percent to $88 billion.

“Float is an $80-billion, no-interest forever margin loan,” said Ted Bridges, principal at Omaha wealth adviser Bridges Investment Management, which owns Berkshire shares among its $1.8 billion of assets under management. “And that is valuable.”

Cash — Buffett’s preferred currency for acquisitions as opposed to his precious company shares when it comes to buying other companies — rose 13 percent to $71.7 billion, an amount the 85-year-old chairman called in his annual shareholder letter released Saturday an “endless gusher of cash.”

Buffett also pledged in the letter to always maintain $20 billion in cash on the balance sheet.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns the Omaha World-Herald.

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