Berkshire Hathaway Earnings: 5 Important Things Investors Should Know

It may seem odd to report earnings on a Saturday, but that's exactly what Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A) (NYSE: BRK-B) just did. The Warren Buffett-led conglomerate regularly issues earnings and other important information over the weekend, specifically to allow investors to have adequate time to digest the information before it's possible to make a trade based on it.

With that in mind, here are some of the highlights from Berkshire Hathaway's second-quarter earnings report that investors should know.

Warren Buffett smiling.

Image Source: The Motley Fool.

Here's what Berkshire earned for the second quarter and why you shouldn't care

Berkshire's earnings per share for the second quarter were $4.87 (per Class B share). This is a staggering 182% improvement over the same quarter a year ago.

However, this earnings number is rather meaningless. Thanks to an accounting rule change that went into effect this year, Berkshire must consider unrealized gains from its stock portfolio when reporting earnings. In other words, if one of Berkshire's stock holdings is worth $2 billion more than it was at the end of the first quarter, this would show up as part of Berkshire's second-quarter earnings, even though the company hasn't actually made anything, since the stock hasn't been sold.

A rundown of some of the more important numbers

Since Berkshire's per-share "earnings" are rather meaningless these days, here's a rundown of some of the key figures that give a better picture of how Berkshire's second quarter actually went.

As you can see, revenue was up significantly across the business, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act resulted in significant savings, and the company swung to a nice underwriting profit.

Metric Q2 2018 Q2 2017 Year-Over-Year Change
Insurance premiums $14.15 Billion $12.37 Billion 14.4%
Sales and service revenue $35.25 Billion $33.38 Billion 5.6%
Railroad, utilities, and energy revenue $10.90 Billion $9.82 Billion 11%
Effective tax rate 20% 28.9% (890 basis points)
Underwriting profit (loss) $943 million ($22 million) $965 million

Data source: Berkshire Hathaway.

Berkshire's cash hoard got even larger

Berkshire ended the quarter with about $111.1 billion in cash and short-term Treasuries. This is an increase of more than $2 billion from the previous quarter and has been a lingering concern for Berkshire and its shareholders.

To be clear, a large stockpile of cash is a good problem to have, but it's still a problem. While Buffett has said that he prefers to keep at least $20 billion in cash in reserve, this stockpile of cash represents more than $90 billion that is earning little or no returns for shareholders. With the company's recently amended buyback program , there could be some relief in sight, but for now Berkshire's cash problem remains.

A larger Apple stake?

We won't know exactly what Berkshire's stock portfolio looked like at the end of the second quarter until its 13-F filing is made public in mid-August. However, Berkshire provided the approximate values of its largest stock positions in its earnings release.

At the end of the first quarter , its Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) investment consisted of roughly 239.6 million shares -- by far the company's largest investment.

In its second-quarter earnings, Berkshire mentioned that its Apple stake was worth $47.2 billion as of June 30, 2018 -- the end of the quarter. As of that date (a Saturday), Apple's price was $185.11 per share. A simple calculation shows that Berkshire owned about 255 million shares of Apple at the end of the quarter, which means that Berkshire's stake appears to have grown by more than 6%.

Again, we won't know the exact share count until mid-August, but it seems pretty safe to say that Berkshire bought even more Apple stock in the second quarter.

Berkshire's buyback ability starts now

I mentioned earlier that Berkshire recently amended its buyback authorization. Previously, the stock needed to be below 120% of its book value for buybacks to occur. Berkshire trades for about 140% of its book value as I'm writing this and has been well in excess of the 120% threshold for some time, so no shares have been repurchased in some time.

Now, buybacks can happen whenever both Buffett and Charlie Munger agree that the stock is trading at a substantial discount to its intrinsic value.

One of the conditions of the amended plan is that it didn't take effect until after the company's second-quarter earnings release. Now that the earnings report is out, Buffett and Munger have the authority to buy back shares whenever they see fit. So, not only can Berkshire buy back shares anytime now, the company's buyback activity could give us a better idea of what Buffett and Munger think Berkshire's shares are really worth.

The takeaway: A solid quarter all around

Although Berkshire Hathaway didn't exactly deliver the performance that its 182% "earnings" growth suggests, the company did have a solid quarter all around its business. Plus, Berkshire finally took a crucial step toward allowing its managers to deal with its lingering cash problem. While we'll have to wait a little while longer for details on Berkshire's closely followed stock portfolio, I'd say that based on what we know so far, Berkshire's second quarter was a good one.

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Matthew Frankel owns shares of Apple and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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