Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the holding
company run by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, said on
Saturday its 1999 profits fell 45 percent, hurt by weakness at
its insurance units and a poor stock performance from several
Berkshire Hathaway, whose diverse holdings include Dairy
Queen ice cream stores and auto insurer GEICO Corp., said 1999
net earnings dropped to $1.557 billion, or $1,025 per share,
from $2.830 billion, or $2,262 per share in 1998. Net earnings
include realized investment gains.
In a letter to shareholders posted on the Berkshire Hathaway
Web site (http://www.berkshirehathaway.com) Buffett said 1999
was the worst year of his tenure and blamed himself for the weak
"We had the worse absolute performance of my tenure and,
compared to the S&P;, the worst relative performance as well,"
Buffett said in the letter posted on Saturday morning.
"Even Inspector Clouseau could find last year's guilty
party your chairman," Buffett said, referring to the
detective figure made famous by the late Peter Sellers.
Class A Berkshire Hathaway shares closed Friday at $41,300
the lowest level since May 1997. Long revered for his stock
picking prowess, the "Oracle of Omaha" has seen Berkshire's
stock tumble while shares in technology companies soared.
Buffett has shunned investing in tech companies, saying he
does not know how to pick the ones with good long-term
investment prospects. He also said investors "seem wildly
optimistic in their expectations about future returns" and
predicted a "severe" stock market correction when investors'
expectations become more realistic.
"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," Buffett
said in the letter.
Berkshire's 1999 profits were hit hard by poor results at
its insurance companies, which include GEICO and General Re, and
Buffett said he did not expect underwriting earnings to improve
dramatically in 2000.
Berkshire's core equity holdings, which include large stakes
in Coca-Cola Co. and Gillette Co., also took a hit in 1999 as
shares in those companies sagged. However, Buffett said he
remained committed to those companies and made no major changes
to the Berkshire portfolio.
"We still like these businesses and are content to have
major investments in them," Buffett said. "But their stumbles
damaged our performance last year, and it's no sure thing that
they will quickly regain their stride."