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“投资者圣经”上新!巴菲特年度股东信全文
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①北京时间周六晚间,伯克希尔·哈撒韦公司发布2023财年年报,以及每年一封的巴菲特股东信;
                ②投资者关注巴菲特,更多还是想听一听这位93岁的当代股神,对于股票、投资有哪些见解。

导读:巴菲特的万字长信主要包含四个部分:

①面向股东介绍伯克希尔的投资准则、经营理念和目标;

②再提美国运通、可口可乐引出“好公司值得耐心持有”,进一步介绍将无限期持有的另两项投资——西方石油和日本商社股票;

③介绍伯克希尔多项主营业务的表现:不如意的铁路和新能源业务,以及表现出色的保险业务;

④邀请股东们参与奥马哈年度股东大会。

这封信很长,建议投资者们可以重点关注前两个部分。下面开始为正文⬇


致伯克希尔·哈撒韦公司的股东们:

伯克希尔拥有超过三百万的股东账户。我负责每年写一封信,这封信对于这个多样化且不断变化的所有者群体来说是有用的,许多人都希望更多地了解他们投资的公司。

查理·芒格,过去几十年里作为我管理伯克希尔的搭档,也认同这一义务。相信他一定会期望我今年继续以常规的方式与你们沟通。在对伯克希尔股东的责任上,他和我意见一致。


对于作家而言,去设想他们试图吸引的读者是有用的,而且他们常常希望吸引大量的读者。在伯克希尔,我们有一个更有限的目标:那些信任伯克希尔,用他们的储蓄进行投资而不期望再卖出的投资者(这种态度类似于那些为了购买农场或出租物业而储蓄的人,而不是那些更喜欢用他们的剩余资金购买彩票或“热门”股票的人)。

多年来,伯克希尔吸引了大量这样的“终身”股东,以及他们的继承人。我们珍视他们的存在,并相信他们有权每年都直接从我们的CEO那里听到好消息和坏消息,而不是来自一个永远兜售乐观和甜言蜜语的投资者关系官员或沟通顾问。

在设想伯克希尔寻求的所有者时,我很幸运有一个完美的心理模型,我的妹妹,贝蒂(Bertie Buffett)。让我来介绍她。

首先,贝蒂聪明、睿智并且喜欢挑战我的思考。然而,我们从未有过大声争吵或接近破裂的关系。我们永远也不会。

此外,贝蒂和她的三个女儿也将他们大部分的储蓄投资于伯克希尔的股票。她们的所有权跨越了几十年,每年贝蒂都会阅读我的股东信。我的工作是预见她的问题并给予她诚实的回答。

贝蒂,就像你们大多数人一样,了解许多会计术语,但她还没有准备好参加注册会计师考试。她关注商业新闻——每天阅读四份报纸——但不认为自己是经济专家。她很理智——非常理智——本能地知道总是应该忽略那些专家的言论。毕竟,如果她能可靠地预测明天的赢家,难道她会免费分享她宝贵的见解、从而增加竞争性购买吗?那就像是发现了金子,然后递给邻居一张显示其位置的地图。

贝蒂理解激励——无论好坏——的力量,人类的弱点,当观察人类行为时可以识别的“迹象”。她知道谁在“卖东西”以及谁可以被信任。简而言之,她不是任何人的傻瓜。

那么,今年有什么能引起贝蒂的兴趣呢?

运营结果,事实与虚构

我们从数字开始。官方年度报告从K-1页开始,延伸到124页。它包含了大量的信息——有些重要,有些微不足道。

在其披露中,许多所有者,连同财经记者,将关注K-72页。在那里,他们将找到俗话所说的“损益表底线”,标签为“净收益(亏损)”。数字显示2021年为900亿美元,2022年为(230亿美元),2023年为960亿美元。

到底发生了什么?

你寻求指导并被告知,计算这些“收益”的程序是由严肃且有资格的财务会计准则委员会(“FASB”)颁布的,由一群专注且努力工作的证券交易委员会(“SEC”)委员强制实施的,并由世界级的专业人士在德勤(“D&T”)审计的。在K-67页,德勤毫不讳言:“依我们看法,财务报表......在所有重大方面公正地呈现了公司......的财务状况......以及其运营结果......对于截至2023年12月31日的三年期间......”

如此神圣化,这个比无用更糟的“净收入”数字很快就通过互联网和媒体传遍了世界。所有相关方认为他们已经完成了他们的工作——从法律上讲,他们确实如此。

然而,我们还是感到不舒服。在伯克希尔,我们的观点是“收益”应该是一个有意义的概念,贝蒂会发现它在评估一个业务时有些用处——但仅仅是一个起点。因此,伯克希尔还向贝蒂和你们报告我们所称的“营业收益”。这里是他们讲述的故事:2021年为276亿美元;2022年为309亿美元,2023年为374亿美元。

伯克希尔偏爱的数字与强制信披数字之间的主要区别在于,我们排除了有时每天可以超过50亿美元的未实现资本收益或亏损。讽刺的是,我们的偏好在2018年之前几乎就是规则,但在那时强制实施了一些“改进”。几个世纪前加利略的经历应该教会我们不要干涉上级的命令。但是,在伯克希尔,我们可以很固执。


绝不要误解资本收益的重要性:我预计在未来几十年中,它们将是伯克希尔价值增值的一个非常重要组成部分。否则,我们为什么要用你们(和贝蒂的)巨额资金投资于股票市场,就像我在我的投资生涯中一直对自己的资金所做的那样?

自1942年3月11日——我第一次购买股票的日期——以来,我不记得有哪一个时期我没有将我大部分的净资产投资于股票,特别是美国股票。到目前为止,一切都很好。那个命运多舛的1942年,当我“扣动扳机”时,道琼斯工业平均指数跌破了100点。到放学的时候,我大概亏了5美元。不久,情况发生了转变,现在那个指数徘徊在38,000点左右。美国对投资者来说是一个了不起的国家。他们需要做的就是安静地坐着,不听任何人的。

然而,基于将股市每天甚至每年的反复无常的变动纳入“收益”中来判断伯克希尔的投资价值,是非常愚蠢的。正如本·格雷厄姆教给我的,“短期内市场表现得像一个投票机;长期来看,它成为一个称重机。”

我们的目标

伯克希尔的目标很简单:我们希望完全或部分拥有那些享有良好经济基础并且持久的企业。在资本主义中,一些企业将会长期繁荣,而另一些则会证明是金钱黑洞。预测哪些将是赢家和输家比你想象的要困难。而那些告诉你他们知道答案的人通常要么是自我欺骗,要么是“卖蛇油的骗子”。

在伯克希尔,我们特别青睐那些未来能够以高回报投入额外资本的稀有企业。仅仅拥有这样一家公司——并且坐着不动——可以带来几乎无法衡量的财富。甚至这样一家公司持仓的继承人也可以——啊!——有时过上一辈子的闲适生活。

我们还希望这些受青睐的企业由能干且值得信赖的管理者运营,尽管这是一个更难做出的判断。当然,伯克希尔也曾有失望的时候。

在1863年,美国首任银行监理官休·麦卡洛克向所有全国性银行发送了一封信。他的指示中包含了这样一个警告:“永远不要期望你能防止一个无赖欺骗你。”许多认为他们可以“管理”无赖问题的银行家已经学到了麦卡洛克先生建议的智慧——我也是。人们并不容易读懂。真诚和同理心很容易被伪装。这一点现在和1863年一样真实。

我所描述的这两个购买公司必需条件的组合,长久以来一直是我们购买企业时的目标。有一段时间,我们有大量的候选对象可供评估。如果我错过了一个——事实上我错过了很多——总会有另一个出现。

那些日子早已经过去了;我们的规模让我们陷入困境,尽管购买公司时的竞争增加也是一个因素。

伯克希尔现在拥有——迄今为止——任何美国企业记录中最大的GAAP净资产。创纪录的营业收入和强劲的股市使得年终数字达到5610亿美元。其他499家标普公司——美国企业的精英——在2022年的总GAAP净资产为8.9万亿美元。(标普2023年的数字尚未统计,但不太可能实质性超过9.5万亿美元。)

以这个衡量标准,伯克希尔现在占据了其所运营宇宙近6%的份额。在例如五年的时间内,简单地翻倍我们庞大的基数是不可能的,特别因为我们极度反对发行股票(一个立即增加净资产的行为)。

在这个国家,只有少数几家公司有能力真正推动伯克希尔的发展,而且它们已经被我们和其他人无休止地审视过。我们可以对一些公司进行估值;对另一些则不能。即便我们能够估值,它们也必须拥有吸引人的定价。在美国以外,基本上没有任何有意义的选择可以用于伯克希尔的资本部署。总的来说,我们没有实现惊人表现的可能性。

尽管如此,管理伯克希尔的大多数时候是有趣且始终有趣的。从积极的方面来说,经过59年的组合,公司现在完全或部分拥有的各种企业,在加权基础上,比大多数大型美国公司的前景稍好一些。通过运气和勇气,从众多决策中涌现出了一些巨大的赢家。而且我们现在有一小群长期的管理者,他们从不考虑去其他地方,而且认为65岁只是另一个生日。


伯克希尔受益于一种不寻常的恒定性和目标明确性。虽然我们强调善待我们的员工、社区和供应商——谁不希望这样做呢?——我们的忠诚永远属于我们的国家和我们的股东。我们永远不会忘记,尽管你的钱与我们的混合在一起,但它并不属于我们。

凭借这样的关注点和我们目前的业务组合,伯克希尔应该会比普遍而言的美国公司表现得稍好一些,更重要的是,能够在大幅降低永久性资本损失风险的情况下运营。不过,除了“略好一些”外,其余的部分都是奢望。这种谦逊的愿景在贝蒂全力投资伯克希尔时并非如此——但现在是。

我们(不那么秘密)的武器

有时,市场和/或经济会导致一些大型且基本面良好的公司的股票和债券被极度错估。实际上,市场可以——并且会——不可预测地崩溃甚至消失,就像1914年的四个月和2001年的几天那样。如果你认为现在的美国投资者比过去更稳定,回想一下2008年9月。通信速度和技术奇迹促成了瞬间的全球性瘫痪,我们已经从放烟雾信号的时代发展了很长一段路。这种瞬间的恐慌不会经常发生——但它们将发生。

伯克希尔能够立即以巨额资金和确定的表现响应市场紧缩,可能为我们提供偶尔的大规模机会。尽管股票市场比我们早年时大得多,但今天的活跃参与者既没有比我上学时更情绪稳定,也没有受到更好的教育。出于某种原因,市场现在表现出比我年轻时更多的赌场行为。“赌场”现在存在于许多家庭中,每天都在诱惑着住户。

金融生活中的一个事实永远不应被忘记。华尔街——用这个词的比喻意义——希望其客户赚钱,但真正让其股民激动的是狂热的活动。在这种时候,任何愚蠢的东西都会被大力推销——不是每个人都这样做,但总有人这样做。

偶尔,场面会变得丑陋。然后,政治家们变得愤怒;最公然的恶行施行者悄无声息地逃脱,富有且未受惩罚;而你的邻居朋友则变得困惑、变穷,有时还会怀有复仇心态。他开始学习到,金钱已经胜过了道德。

伯克希尔的一条投资规则没有且不会改变:永远不冒永久性资本损失的风险。得益于美国的顺风和复利的力量,我们运营的领域已经是——并将继续是——如果你一生中做出几个好决定并避免重大错误,就会获得回报的。


我相信伯克希尔能够应对一场,烈度超越所有已有历史的金融灾难。我们不会放弃这种能力。当经济动荡发生时,就像它们肯定会发生那样,伯克希尔的目标将是作为国家的资产——就像在2008-2009年的微小方式中那样——帮助扑灭金融火灾,而不是成为许多受灾公司的一员,不管是无意遭牵连,还是以其他方式引发大火。

我们的目标是现实的。伯克希尔的力量来自于其在扣除利息成本、税收和大量折旧及摊销费用后(“EBITDA”是伯克希尔禁止使用的衡量指标)提供的多元化收益。我们的运营对现金的要求也很少,即便国家长期遭遇全球经济疲软、恐惧和近乎瘫痪时也是如此。

伯克希尔目前不支付股息,股票回购完全是自由决定的,债务到期从未构成什么大问题。

你们的公司还持有远超常规智慧认为必要的现金和美国国债票据头寸。在2008年的恐慌中,伯克希尔从运营中产生现金,没有以任何方式依赖商业票据、银行额度或债务市场。我们没有预测经济瘫痪的时间,但我们始终为之做好了准备。

极端的财务保守主义,是我们对那些与我们共同拥有伯克希尔的人做出的承诺。在大多数年份,我们的谨慎可能被证明是不必要的行为——就像防火堡垒式建筑的保险单一样。但伯克希尔不想给贝蒂或任何信任我们的人带来永久的财务伤害——当然,他们持有的资产的市场价值在一段较长的时间内可能会经历一定程度的下跌,这是投资市场的自然波动的一部分,无法避免。

伯克希尔的建造理念,就是为了经得起时间的考验。

让我们感到舒适的非控股业务

去年,我提到了伯克希尔的两个长期持仓——可口可乐和美国运通。这两家并非像我们对苹果的巨大投资那样。每个只占伯克希尔公认会计准则下净资产的4-5%。但它们是有意义的资产,也展示了我们的思考过程。

美国运通于1850年开始运营,可口可乐于1886年在亚特兰大的一家药店推出。(伯克希尔不青睐新来者。)这两家公司多年来曾尝试扩展到无关领域,但在这些尝试中几乎没有成功。在过去——但现在绝对不是——它们甚至遭遇过错误的管理。

但每家公司在其基础业务中都取得了巨大成功,根据情况需要进行了这样那样的调整。而且,关键的是,它们的产品“走出去了”。可口可乐和美国运通都成为全球范围内可识别的名字,就像它们的核心产品一样。对液体的消费,和对无可置疑财务信任的需求,是我们世界永恒的基本需求。

在2023年期间,我们既没有购买也没有出售美国运通或可口可乐的任何股份——延续了我们自己的瑞普·凡·温克尔式的沉睡,这已经持续了二十多年。去年,这两家公司再次通过增加它们的利润和股息来奖励我们的不作为。实际上,我们在2023年来自美国运通的收益,远远超过了很久以前购买股票所花的13亿美元。

美国运通和可口可乐在2024年几乎肯定会增加它们的股息——美国运通方面大概会是16%——而我们几乎一定会在整个年度保持持股不变。我能创造出比这两家更好的全球性业务吗?正如贝蒂会告诉你的:“不可能”。

尽管伯克希尔在2023年没有购买这两家公司的任何股份,但去年你对可口可乐和美国运通的间接所有权,因为我们在伯克希尔进行的回购而略有增加。这种回购作用于增加你在伯克希尔所拥有的每一项资产中的参与度。对于这个显而易见但经常被忽视的真理,这里我添加一份说了很多遍的警告:所有的股票回购都应该依赖于价格。在低于业务价值的折扣时进行回购是明智的,而在溢价时进行则是愚蠢的。

从投资可口可乐和美国运通中能学到什么?当你找到一个真正了不起的企业时,坚持下去。耐心是有回报的,一个了不起的企业可以抵消许多不可避免的平庸决策。


今年,我想描述我们预期将无限期保持的另外两项投资。像可口可乐和美国运通一样,这些承诺相对于我们的资源并不巨大。然而,它们是有价值的,而且我们在2023年期间增加了这部分的持仓。

截至年末,伯克希尔拥有西方石油公司普通股的27.8%,还拥有超过五年时间的认股权证,给予我们以固定价格大幅增加所有权的选项。尽管我们非常喜欢这些股票和认股权证,伯克希尔对买下或管理西方石油没有兴趣。我们特别喜欢它在美国的庞大石油和天然气业务,以及其在碳捕获倡议上的领导地位,尽管这项技术的经济可行性尚未被证明。这两项活动都非常符合我们国家的利益。

不久前,美国在外国石油上的依赖程度可悲地处于高位,碳捕获几乎不存在有意义的支持者。实际上,在1975年,美国的石油当量日产量(“BOEPD”)为800万桶,远远低于国家的需求。美国在第二次世界大战中处于有利的能源地位,但现在却严重依赖外国(甚至可以称为不稳定的)供应商。据预测,随着未来用量的增加,石油产量将进一步下降。

长期以来,这种悲观情绪似乎是正确的,到2007年,产量降至每天500万桶石油当量(BOEPD)。同时,美国政府在1975年创建了战略石油储备(SPR),以缓解——尽管没有完全消除——美国自给自足能力的侵蚀。

然后——哈利路亚!——2011年,页岩油经济变得可行,我们的能源依赖结束了。如今,美国的产量超过了每天1300万桶石油当量,欧佩克不再占据上风。西方石油公司自己的美国石油年产量几乎接近SPR的全部库存。如果国内产量仍然维持在每天500万桶,并且发现自己严重依赖非美国来源,我们的国家今天会非常、非常紧张。在那个水平上,如果无法获得外国石油,SPR将在几个月内被耗尽。

在Vicki Hollub的领导下,西方石油公司为其国家和所有者做了正确的事情。没有人知道未来一个月、一年或十年内油价会怎样。但Vicki确实知道如何从岩石中分离出石油,这是一种不寻常的才能,对她的股东和她的国家都很有价值。


此外,伯克希尔继续保持对五家非常大的日本公司的被动和长期兴趣,每家公司都以类似于伯克希尔自身运作的方式进行高度多元化的经营。在格雷格·阿贝尔和我前往东京与它们的管理层会面后,去年我们增加了所有五家公司的持股。

伯克希尔现在大约拥有这五家公司每家9%的股票。(一个次要点:日本公司计算在外股份的方式与美国的做法不同。)伯克希尔还向每家公司承诺,不会购买股份使我们的持股超过9.9%。我们对这五家公司的投资成本总计为1.6万亿日元,而2023年末持仓市值为2.9万亿日元。由于近年来日元贬值,我们的年末未实现收益率以美元计算为61%,即80亿美元。

格雷格和我都不认为我们能预测主要货币的市场价格。我们也不认为我们能雇佣有这种能力的人。因此,伯克希尔是用发行1.3万亿日元债券的收入,资助其大部分的日本头寸。这些债券在日本非常受欢迎,我相信伯克希尔拥有的日元债务比任何其他美国公司都多。日元贬值为伯克希尔带来了19亿美元的年末收益,根据通用会计准则,这笔收入在2020-2023年期间已经定期确认。

在某些重要方面,这五家公司——伊藤忠、丸红、三菱、三井和住友——遵循的对股东友好政策,比美国通常的做法要好得多。自我们开始购买日本股份以来,这五家公司每家都以有吸引力的价格减少了其在外股份的数量。

与此同时,这五家公司的管理层在自己的薪酬方面远不如美国典型情况那样激进。同样值得注意的是,这五家公司中的每一家只将其盈利的大约三分之一用于分红,保留的大额资金既用于发展其众多业务,也在较小程度上用于回购股份。与伯克希尔一样,这五家公司不愿意发行股份。

对伯克希尔而言的一个额外好处是,我们的投资可能会带来与五家大型、管理良好且享有盛誉的公司在全球范围内合作的机会。它们的利益比起我们要广泛得多。而且,从它们的角度看,日本的CEO们安心于知道伯克希尔将始终拥有巨额的流动资源,这些资源可以立即用于此类合作,无论其规模大小如何。

我们买入这些日本股票始于2019年7月4日。鉴于伯克希尔目前的规模,通过公开市场购买建立头寸需要很多耐心和一个长期“友好”的价格,这个过程就像转动一艘战舰。这是我们在伯克希尔早期不用经历的重要不利因素。

2023年的记分卡

每个季度我们都会发布一份新闻稿,报告我们的汇总运营收益(或亏损),方式类似于下面所示。以下是全年的汇编:

(注:从上到下分别为保险-承销、保险-投资利润、铁路、公用事业和能源、其他业务和杂项,以及应用利润)

在2023年5月6日伯克希尔的年度股东会上,我介绍了当天早晨公布的第一季度结果。随后,我简要总结了全年的展望:(1)我们大多数非保险业务在2023年面临收益下降;(2)这种下滑将得到我们两大最大的非保险业务——BNSF铁路公司和伯克希尔哈撒韦能源公司(“BHE”)的良好业绩缓冲,这两家公司在2022年的运营收益中占比超过30%;(3)我们的投资收入肯定会显著增长,因为伯克希尔持有的巨额美国国债仓位终于开始为我们带来远超之前所获得的微薄金额;(4)保险业很可能表现良好,这既因为其承保收益不与其他地方的收益相关联,而且,物业和意外伤害保险价格已经上涨。

保险业如预期那样实现了目标。然而,我对BNSF和BHE的预期却出现了错误。让我们分别来看一下。


铁路对美国的经济未来至关重要。就成本、燃料使用和碳强度而言,它显然是将重物料运往远距离目的地的最高效方式。对于短途运输,卡车运输占优势,但许多美国人需要的商品必须运送给数百甚至数千英里。国家离开了铁路就无法运转,而且这个行业的资本需求将永远巨大。实际上,与大多数美国企业相比,铁路公司可以说是在“吃”资本。

BNSF是覆盖北美的六大主要铁路系统中最大的一个。我们的铁路业务以700亿美元的资产负债表价值,携带着它的23,759英里的主轨道、99个隧道、13,495座桥梁、7,521辆机车和其他各种固定资产。但我猜,复制这些资产至少需要5000亿美元,且需要几十年时间来完成这项工作。

仅仅为了维持其目前的业务水平,BNSF每年必须花费的钱超过其折旧费用。这一现实对于任何行业的所有者来说都是不利的,对于资本密集型行业尤其是这样。

在BNSF,自我们14年前购买以来,超出GAAP折旧费用的支出总计高达220亿美元或每年超过15亿美元。哎哟!这种差距意味着,除非我们定期增加铁路公司的债务,否则BNSF支付给伯克希尔的红利将大大低于BNSF的报告收益。而这是我们不打算做的。

因此,伯克希尔对BNSF购买价格的回报是可以接受的,尽管比表面上看起来的要少,而且资产的重置价值也很低。这对我或伯克希尔的董事会来说都不足为奇。这解释了为什么我们能在2010年以其重置价值的一小部分买下了BNSF。

北美的铁路系统运输大量的煤炭、谷物、汽车、进出口商品等,这些货物常常需要长途单向运输,这些行程经常创造返程时收入问题。极端天气条件,经常妨碍甚至阻碍轨道、桥梁和设备的利用。洪水可能是一场噩梦。所有这些都不是什么新鲜事。虽然我坐在一个始终舒适的办公室里,但铁路运输是一项户外活动,许多员工在艰苦甚至危险的条件下工作。

一个日益严重的问题是,越来越多的美国人不愿意从事铁路运营中某些困难且常常孤独的工作。工程师必须面对这样一个事实:在3.35亿美国人口中,一些孤独或心理受挫的美国人,会选择躺在无法在一英里或更远的距离内停下的100节、异常沉重的火车前自杀来结束生命。你想成为那位无助的工程师吗?这种创伤在北美大约每天发生一次;在欧洲更为常见,且这种情况将永远伴随我们。

在铁路行业,工资谈判可能最终落到总统和国会的手中。此外,美国铁路公司每天都被要求运输其他行业更愿意避免的危险产品。“公共承运人”这个词定义了铁路的责任。

去年,随着收入下降,BNSF的收益降低程度超过了我的预期。尽管燃料成本也有所下降,但华盛顿颁布的工资增长远远超出了国家的通胀目标。这种差异在未来的谈判中可能会重现。

尽管BNSF运输的货物量更多,资本支出也超过北美其他五大主要铁路公司,但自我们购买以来,其利润率相对于这五家公司却出现下滑。我相信,我们广阔的服务是无与伦比的,因此我们的利润率可以而且应该改善。

我特别为BNSF对国家的贡献,以及在北达科他州和蒙大拿州冬季零下气温时在户外工作,保持美国商业动脉畅通的人们感到骄傲。当铁路运行顺畅时,它们可能不会引起太多关注,但如果它们不可用,整个美国将立即感受到空缺。

从现在起一个世纪,BNSF将继续是国家和伯克希尔的重要资产。这一点你可以相信。


去年我们的第二个也是更严重的收益失望发生在BHE。它的大多数大型电力公用事业以及广泛的天然气管道表现大致符合预期。但一些州的监管环境,提高了这个行业零利润甚至破产的风险(加利福尼亚最大公用事业的实际结果和夏威夷州当前面对的威胁)。在这样的司法管辖区,很难预测这个曾经被认为是美国最稳定行业(之一)的收益和资产价值。

一个多世纪以来,电力公司通过各州承诺的固定股本回报率(有时业绩优异会有小额奖金)筹集巨额资金,为公司发展提供资金。通过这种方式,对几年后可能需要的发电能力进行了大规模投资。这种前瞻性监管反映了一个现实,即公用事业公司建设发电和输电资产往往需要多年时间。BHE在西部的大型多州输电项目于2006年启动,距完工还有数年时间。这些项目最终将服务10个州,占美国大陆总面积的30%。

私营和公共电力系统都采用这种模式,即使人口增长或工业需求超出预期,电灯也不会熄灭。在监管者、投资者和公众看来,这种"安全边际"的方法是明智的。现在,这种“固定但令人满意的回报”的约定在几个州被打破了,投资者开始担心这种破裂会蔓延开来。气候变化加剧了他们的担忧。地下输电可能是必需的,但几十年前,谁愿意为这种建设支付高昂的费用呢?

在伯克希尔,我们对已经发生的损失做出了最佳估计。这些成本来源于森林火灾,其频率和强度已经增加——如果对流风暴变得更加频繁,这种情况很可能会继续增加。

我们还需要很多年才能知道BHE在森林火灾中的最终损失,才能明智地决定未来在脆弱的西部各州进行投资的可取性。其他地方的监管环境是否会发生变化,我们拭目以待。

其他电力公司可能会面临与太平洋天然气与电力公司和夏威夷电力公司类似的生存问题。

如果以没收的方式解决目前的问题,显然会对BHE造成不利影响,但该公司和伯克希尔公司本身的结构都能应对不利的意外情况。我们的基本产品是风险承担,我们的保险业务经常会出现这种情况,其他业务也会出现这种情况。伯克希尔公司可以承受财务意外,但我们不会故意把好钱往坏处扔。

无论伯克希尔公司的情况如何,公用事业行业的最终结果可能是不祥的:某些公用事业公司可能不再吸引美国公民的储蓄,将被迫采用公共电力模式。内布拉斯加州在20世纪30年代就做出了这样的选择,全国各地也有许多公共电力公司。最终,选民、纳税人和用户将决定他们更喜欢哪种模式。

当一切尘埃落定,美国的电力需求和随之而来的资本支出将是惊人的。我和伯克希尔公司在BHE的两位合伙人都没有预料到甚至没有考虑到监管回报的不利发展,我犯了一个代价高昂的错误。


说够了问题:我们的保险业务去年表现出色,创下了销售、浮存金和承保利润的记录。财产及意外伤害保险(“P/C”)构成了伯克希尔的福祉和增长的核心。我们从事这一业务已经57年,尽管我们的业务量几乎增长了5000倍——从1700万美元增至830亿美元——我们还有很大的增长空间。

除此之外,我们还学到了许多重要课程——往往是通过痛苦的方式——关于应该避免哪些类型的保险业务和哪些类型的人。最重要的一课是,我们的承保人可以是瘦的、胖的、男性、女性、年轻的、老的、外国的或本国的。但他们在办公室里不能是乐观主义者,尽管这个品质在生活中通常是可取的。

P/C业务中的意外几乎总是负面的,这些意外可能在六个月或一年期保单到期后的几十年里发生。这个行业的会计设计是为了认识这一现实,但预估错误可能会非常巨大。如果涉及到江湖骗子,发现起来往往既慢又费钱。伯克希尔公司总是试图准确估算未来的损失赔付,但通货膨胀(包括货币和“法律”方面的通货膨胀)是个未知数。

我已经讲述了我们保险业务的故事很多次了,因此我将直接指导新来者去看第18页。在这里,我只想重复,如果阿吉特·贾恩没有在1986年加入伯克希尔,我们的地位就不会是现在这样。在那个幸运的日子到来之前,除了1951年初在GEICO开始的一段几乎令人难以置信的美好经历之外,我一直在荒野中徘徊,努力建立我们的保险业务。

阿吉特自加入伯克希尔以来的成就,得到了我们各个P/C业务中一大批极具才能的保险高管的支持。他们的名字和面孔对大多数媒体和公众来说都是陌生的。然而,伯克希尔的管理团队对于P/C保险来说,就像棒球名人堂的成员对于棒球那样。

贝蒂,你可以为自己拥有一部分在全球范围内运营、拥有无与伦比的财务资源、声誉和才能、不可思议的P/C业务感到高兴。它在2023年发挥了重要作用。

奥马哈有什么特别之处呢?

来参加2024年5月4日的伯克希尔年度股东会吧。在舞台上,你将看到现在承担引领你们公司重要责任的三位管理者。你可能会好奇,这三个人有什么共同点呢?他们显然看起来并不相像。让我们深入了解一下。

格雷格·阿贝尔,负责伯克希尔所有非保险业务的运营——在各方面都已准备好成为伯克希尔的下一任CEO——出生并在加拿大长大(他至今仍然打冰球)。然而,在1990年代,格雷格在奥马哈住了六年,就在我家附近几个街区。在那段时间里,我从未见过他。

比格雷格要大个十岁左右,出生、成长并在印度受教育的阿吉特·贾恩,与他的家人住在奥马哈,距离我家(我自1958年以来一直居住的地方)只有一英里左右。尽管阿吉特和他的妻子Tinku已经搬到纽约超过三十年了(为了靠近再保险业的许多行动),但他们在奥马哈有许多朋友。

今年不在舞台上的是查理。他和我都出生在奥马哈,距离你们5月聚会时将坐的位置大约两英里远。在他出生的头十年里,查理就住在距离伯克希尔办公室大约半英里远的地方。查理和我都在奥马哈的公立学校度过了我们的早年时光,被我们在奥马哈的童年深深地塑造。然而,我们直到很久以后才相遇。(一个可能会让你惊讶的脚注:查理在美国45位总统中经历过15位。人们把拜登总统称为第46任总统,但这个编号将格罗弗·克利夫兰计为第22任和第24任,因为他的任期不是连续的。美国是一个非常年轻的国家。)

转到公司层面,伯克希尔本身在1970年,从其位于新英格兰的81年居所搬迁到了奥马哈,把它的麻烦留在了身后,并在新家中茁壮成长。

作为“奥马哈效应”最后的标点,贝蒂——是的,那个贝蒂——在奥马哈的一个中产阶级社区度过了她早期的成长年岁,几十年后,成为了国内一位伟大的投资者。

你可能会认为她把所有的钱都投入到伯克希尔,然后简单地坐等财富增长。但事实并非如此。在1956年成立家庭后,贝蒂在接下来的20年里在财务上一直保持活跃:持有债券,将她资金的三分之一投入到一家上市的共同基金,并且频繁交易股票。她的潜力未被注意到。

然后,在1980年,贝蒂46岁时,独立于她兄弟的任何建议或劝说,贝蒂决定采取行动。除了保留共同基金和伯克希尔外,她在接下来的43年里没有进行任何新的交易。在那段时间里,即使在进行了大额慈善捐赠(九位数)之后,她依然非常富有。

数百万美国投资者本可以遵循她的投资逻辑,这只涉及她不知不觉从小在奥马哈吸收的常识。而且,不冒任何风险,贝蒂每年五月都会回到奥马哈重新获得能量。


那么,到底发生了什么?是奥马哈的水吗?是奥马哈的空气吗?是某种奇怪的行星现象,类似于令牙买加盛产短跑运动员,以及肯尼亚的马拉松跑者或俄罗斯的国际象棋专家那样么?我们必须等到某一天让人工智能解开这个谜题吗?

保持开放的心态。五月来奥马哈,呼吸这里的空气,喝这里的水,向贝蒂及她那漂亮的女儿们问好。谁知道呢?这没有坏处,无论如何,你会玩得很开心,结识一大群友好的人。

作为压轴消息,我们将提供《穷查理宝典》的第四版。去买一本吧,查理的智慧将改善你的生活,就像我的生活一样。

2024年2月24日

沃伦·E·巴菲特 董事会主席

英文原文:

To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc

Berkshire has more than three million shareholder accounts. I am charged with writing a letter every year that will be useful to this diverse and ever-changing group of owners, many of whom wish to learn more about their investment.

Charlie Munger, for decades my partner in managing Berkshire, viewed this obligation identically and would expect me to communicate with you this year in the regular manner. He and I were of one mind regarding our responsibilities to Berkshire shareholders.


Writers find it useful to picture the reader they seek, and often they are hoping to attract a mass audience. At Berkshire, we have a more limited target: investors who trust Berkshire with their savings without any expectation of resale (resembling in attitude people who save in order to buy a farm or rental property rather than people who prefer using their excess funds to purchase lottery tickets or “hot” stocks).

Over the years, Berkshire has attracted an unusual number of such “lifetime” shareholders and their heirs. We cherish their presence and believe they are entitled to hear every year both the good and bad news, delivered directly from their CEO and not from an investor-relations officer or communications consultant forever serving up optimism and syrupy mush.

In visualizing the owners that Berkshire seeks, I am lucky to have the perfect mental model, my sister, Bertie. Let me introduce her.

For openers, Bertie is smart, wise and likes to challenge my thinking. We have never, however, had a shouting match or anything close to a ruptured relationship. We never will.

Furthermore, Bertie, and her three daughters as well, have a large portion of their savings in Berkshire shares. Their ownership spans decades, and every year Bertie will read what I have to say. My job is to anticipate her questions and give her honest answers.

Bertie, like most of you, understands many accounting terms, but she is not ready for a CPA exam. She follows business news – reading four newspapers daily – but doesn’t consider herself an economic expert. She is sensible – very sensible – instinctively knowing that pundits should always be ignored. After all, if she could reliably predict tomorrow’s winners, would she freely share her valuable insights and thereby increase competitive buying? That would be like finding gold and then handing a map to the neighbors showing its location.

Bertie understands the power – for good or bad – of incentives, the weaknesses of humans, the “tells” that can be recognized when observing human behavior. She knows who is “selling” and who can be trusted. In short, she is nobody’s fool.

So, what would interest Bertie this year?

Operating Results, Fact and Fiction

Let’s begin with the numbers. The official annual report begins on K-1 and extends for 124 pages. It is filled with a vast amount of information – some important, some trivial.

Among its disclosures many owners, along with financial reporters, will focus on page K-72. There, they will find the proverbial “bottom line” labeled “Net earnings (loss).” The numbers read $90 billion for 2021, ($23 billion) for 2022 and $96 billion for 2023.

What in the world is going on?

You seek guidance and are told that the procedures for calculating these “earnings” are promulgated by a sober and credentialed Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”), mandated by a dedicated and hard-working Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and audited by the world-class professionals at Deloitte & Touche (“D&T”). On page K-67, D&T pulls no punches: “In our opinion, the financial statements . . . . . present fairly, in all material respects (italics mine), the financial position of the Company . . . . . and the results of its operations . . . . . for each of the three years in the period ended December 31, 2023 . . . . .”

So sanctified, this worse-than-useless “net income” figure quickly gets transmitted throughout the world via the internet and media. All parties believe they have done their job – and, legally, they have.

We, however, are left uncomfortable. At Berkshire, our view is that “earnings” should be a sensible concept that Bertie will find somewhat useful – but only as a starting point – in evaluating a business. Accordingly, Berkshire also reports to Bertie and you what we call “operating earnings.” Here is the story they tell: $27.6 billion for 2021; $30.9 billion for 2022 and $37.4 billion for 2023.

The primary difference between the mandated figures and the ones Berkshire prefers is that we exclude unrealized capital gains or losses that at times can exceed $5 billion a day. Ironically, our preference was pretty much the rule until 2018, when the “improvement” was mandated. Galileo’s experience, several centuries ago, should have taught us not to mess with mandates from on high. But, at Berkshire, we can be stubborn.


Make no mistake about the significance of capital gains: I expect them to be a very important component of Berkshire’s value accretion during the decades ahead. Why else would we commit huge dollar amounts of your money (and Bertie’s) to marketable equities just as I have been doing with my own funds throughout my investing lifetime?

I can’t remember a period since March 11, 1942 – the date of my first stock purchase – that I have not had a majority of my net worth in equities, U.S.-based equities. And so far, so good. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell below 100 on that fateful day in 1942 when I “pulled the trigger.” I was down about $5 by the time school was out. Soon, things turned around and now that index hovers around 38,000. America has been a terrific country for investors. All they have needed to do is sit quietly, listening to no one.

It is more than silly, however, to make judgments about Berkshire’s investment value based on “earnings” that incorporate the capricious day-by-day and, yes, even year-by-year movements of the stock market. As Ben Graham taught me, “In the short run the market acts as a voting machine; in the long run it becomes a weighing machine.”

What We Do

Our goal at Berkshire is simple: We want to own either all or a portion of businesses that enjoy good economics that are fundamental and enduring. Within capitalism, some businesses will flourish for a very long time while others will prove to be sinkholes. It’s harder than you would think to predict which will be the winners and losers. And those who tell you they know the answer are usually either self-delusional or snake-oil salesmen.

At Berkshire, we particularly favor the rare enterprise that can deploy additional capital at high returns in the future. Owning only one of these companies – and simply sitting tight – can deliver wealth almost beyond measure. Even heirs to such a holding can – ugh! – sometimes live a lifetime of leisure.

We also hope these favored businesses are run by able and trustworthy managers, though that is a more difficult judgment to make, however, and Berkshire has had its share of disappointments.

In 1863, Hugh McCulloch, the first Comptroller of the United States, sent a letter to all national banks. His instructions included this warning: “Never deal with a rascal under the expectation that you can prevent him from cheating you.” Many bankers who thought they could “manage” the rascal problem have learned the wisdom of Mr. McCulloch’s advice – and I have as well. People are not that easy to read. Sincerity and empathy can easily be faked. That is as true now as it was in 1863.

This combination of the two necessities I’ve described for acquiring businesses has for long been our goal in purchases and, for a while, we had an abundance of candidates to evaluate. If I missed one – and I missed plenty – another always came along.

Those days are long behind us; size did us in, though increased competition for purchases was also a factor.

Berkshire now has – by far – the largest GAAP net worth recorded by any American business. Record operating income and a strong stock market led to a yearend figure of $561 billion. The total GAAP net worth for the other 499 S&P companies – a who’s who of American business – was $8.9 trillion in 2022. (The 2023 number for the S&P has not yet been tallied but is unlikely to materially exceed $9.5 trillion.)

By this measure, Berkshire now occupies nearly 6% of the universe in which it operates. Doubling our huge base is simply not possible within, say, a five-year period, particularly because we are highly averse to issuing shares (an act that immediately juices net worth).

There remain only a handful of companies in this country capable of truly moving the needle at Berkshire, and they have been endlessly picked over by us and by others. Some we can value; some we can’t. And, if we can, they have to be attractively priced. Outside the U.S., there are essentially no candidates that are meaningful options for capital deployment at Berkshire. All in all, we have no possibility of eye-popping performance.

Nevertheless, managing Berkshire is mostly fun and always interesting. On the positive side, after 59 years of assemblage, the company now owns either a portion or 100% of various businesses that, on a weighted basis, have somewhat better prospects than exist at most large American companies. By both luck and pluck, a few huge winners have emerged from a great many dozens of decisions. And we now have a small cadre of long-time managers who never muse about going elsewhere and who regard 65 as just another birthday.


Berkshire benefits from an unusual constancy and clarity of purpose. While we emphasize treating our employees, communities and suppliers well – who wouldn’t wish to do so? – our allegiance will always be to our country and our shareholders. We never forget that, though your money is comingled with ours, it does not belong to us.

With that focus, and with our present mix of businesses, Berkshire should do a bit better than the average American corporation and, more important, should also operate with materially less risk of permanent loss of capital. Anything beyond “slightly better,” though, is wishful thinking. This modest aspiration wasn’t the case when Bertie went all-in on Berkshire – but it is now.

Our Not-So-Secret Weapon

Occasionally, markets and/or the economy will cause stocks and bonds of some large and fundamentally good businesses to be strikingly mispriced. Indeed, markets can – and will – unpredictably seize up or even vanish as they did for four months in 1914 and for a few days in 2001. If you believe that American investors are now more stable than in the past, think back to September 2008. Speed of communication and the wonders of technology facilitate instant worldwide paralysis, and we have come a long way since smoke signals. Such instant panics won’t happen often – but they will happen.

Berkshire’s ability to immediately respond to market seizures with both huge sums and certainty of performance may offer us an occasional large-scale opportunity. Though the stock market is massively larger than it was in our early years, today’s active participants are neither more emotionally stable nor better taught than when I was in school. For whatever reasons, markets now exhibit far more casino-like behavior than they did when I was young. The casino now resides in many homes and daily tempts the occupants.

One fact of financial life should never be forgotten. Wall Street – to use the term in its figurative sense – would like its customers to make money, but what truly causes its denizens’ juices to flow is feverish activity. At such times, whatever foolishness can be marketed will be vigorously marketed – not by everyone but always by someone.

Occasionally, the scene turns ugly. The politicians then become enraged; the most flagrant perpetrators of misdeeds slip away, rich and unpunished; and your friend next door becomes bewildered, poorer and sometimes vengeful. Money, he learns, has trumped morality.

One investment rule at Berkshire has not and will not change: Never risk permanent loss of capital. Thanks to the American tailwind and the power of compound interest, the arena in which we operate has been – and will be – rewarding if you make a couple of good decisions during a lifetime and avoid serious mistakes.


I believe Berkshire can handle financial disasters of a magnitude beyond any heretofore experienced. This ability is one we will not relinquish. When economic upsets occur, as they will, Berkshire’s goal will be to function as an asset to the country – just as it was in a very minor way in 2008-9 – and to help extinguish the financial fire rather than to be among the many companies that, inadvertently or otherwise, ignited the conflagration.

Our goal is realistic. Berkshire’s strength comes from its Niagara of diverse earnings delivered after interest costs, taxes and substantial charges for depreciation and amortization (“EBITDA” is a banned measurement at Berkshire). We also operate with minimal requirements for cash, even if the country encounters a prolonged period of global economic weakness, fear and near-paralysis.

Berkshire does not currently pay dividends, and its share repurchases are 100% discretionary. Annual debt maturities are never material.

Your company also holds a cash and U.S. Treasury bill position far in excess of what conventional wisdom deems necessary. During the 2008 panic, Berkshire generated cash from operations and did not rely in any manner on commercial paper, bank lines or debt markets. We did not predict the time of an economic paralysis but we were always prepared for one.

Extreme fiscal conservatism is a corporate pledge we make to those who have joined us in ownership of Berkshire. In most years – indeed in most decades – our caution will likely prove to be unneeded behavior – akin to an insurance policy on a fortress-like building thought to be fireproof. But Berkshire does not want to inflict permanent financial damage – quotational shrinkage for extended periods can’t be avoided – on Bertie or any of the individuals who have trusted us with their savings.

Berkshire is built to last.

Non-controlled Businesses That Leave Us Comfortable

Last year I mentioned two of Berkshire’s long-duration partial-ownership positions – Coca-Cola and American Express. These are not huge commitments like our Apple position. Each only accounts for 4-5% of Berkshire’s GAAP net worth. But they are meaningful assets and also illustrate our thought processes.

American Express began operations in 1850, and Coca-Cola was launched in an Atlanta drug store in 1886. (Berkshire is not big on newcomers.) Both companies tried expanding into unrelated areas over the years and both found little success in these attempts. In the past – but definitely not now – both were even mismanaged.

But each was hugely successful in its base business, reshaped here and there as conditions called for. And, crucially, their products “traveled.” Both Coke and AMEX became recognizable names worldwide as did their core products, and the consumption of liquids and the need for unquestioned financial trust are timeless essentials of our world.

During 2023, we did not buy or sell a share of either AMEX or Coke – extending our own Rip Van Winkle slumber that has now lasted well over two decades. Both companies again rewarded our inaction last year by increasing their earnings and dividends. Indeed, our share of AMEX earnings in 2023 considerably exceeded the $1.3 billion cost of our long-ago purchase.

Both AMEX and Coke will almost certainly increase their dividends in 2024 – about 16% in the case of AMEX – and we will most certainly leave our holdings untouched throughout the year. Could I create a better worldwide business than these two enjoy? As Bertie will tell you: “No way.”

Though Berkshire did not purchase shares of either company in 2023, your indirect ownership of both Coke and AMEX increased a bit last year because of share repurchases we made at Berkshire. Such repurchases work to increase your participation in every asset that Berkshire owns. To this obvious but often overlooked truth, I add my usual caveat: All stock repurchases should be price-dependent. What is sensible at a discount to business-value becomes stupid if done at a premium.

The lesson from Coke and AMEX? When you find a truly wonderful business, stick with it. Patience pays, and one wonderful business can offset the many mediocre decisions that are inevitable.


This year, I would like to describe two other investments that we expect to maintain indefinitely. Like Coke and AMEX, these commitments are not huge relative to our resources. They are worthwhile, however, and we were able to increase both positions during 2023.

At yearend, Berkshire owned 27.8% of Occidental Petroleum’s common shares and also owned warrants that, for more than five years, give us the option to materially increase our ownership at a fixed price. Though we very much like our ownership, as well as the option, Berkshire has no interest in purchasing or managing Occidental. We particularly like its vast oil and gas holdings in the United States, as well as its leadership in carbon-capture initiatives, though the economic feasibility of this technique has yet to be proven. Both of these activities are very much in our country’s interest.

Not so long ago, the U.S. was woefully dependent on foreign oil, and carbon capture had no meaningful constituency. Indeed, in 1975, U.S. production was eight million barrels of oil-equivalent per day (“BOEPD”), a level far short of the country’s needs. From the favorable energy position that facilitated the U.S. mobilization in World War II, the country had retreated to become heavily dependent on foreign – potentially unstable – suppliers. Further declines in oil production were predicted along with future increases in usage.

For a long time, the pessimism appeared to be correct, with production falling to five million BOEPD by 2007. Meanwhile, the U.S. government created a Strategic Petroleum Reserve (“SPR”) in 1975 to alleviate – though not come close to eliminating – this erosion of American self-sufficiency.

And then – Hallelujah! – shale economics became feasible in 2011, and our energy dependency ended. Now, U.S. production is more than 13 million BOEPD, and OPEC no longer has the upper hand. Occidental itself has annual U.S. oil production that each year comes close to matching the entire inventory of the SPR. Our country would be very – very – nervous today if domestic production had remained at five million BOEPD, and it found itself hugely dependent on non-U.S. sources. At that level, the SPR would have been emptied within months if foreign oil became unavailable.

Under Vicki Hollub’s leadership, Occidental is doing the right things for both its country and its owners. No one knows what oil prices will do over the next month, year, or decade. But Vicki does know how to separate oil from rock, and that’s an uncommon talent, valuable to her shareholders and to her country.


Additionally, Berkshire continues to hold its passive and long-term interest in five very large Japanese companies, each of which operates in a highly-diversified manner somewhat similar to the way Berkshire itself is run. We increased our holdings in all five last year after Greg Abel and I made a trip to Tokyo to talk with their managements.

Berkshire now owns about 9% of each of the five. (A minor point: Japanese companies calculate outstanding shares in a manner different from the practice in the U.S.) Berkshire has also pledged to each company that it will not purchase shares that will take our holdings beyond 9.9%. Our cost for the five totals ¥1.6 trillion, and the yearend market value of the five was ¥2.9 trillion. However, the yen has weakened in recent years and our yearend unrealized gain in dollars was 61% or $8 billion.

Neither Greg nor I believe we can forecast market prices of major currencies. We also don’t believe we can hire anyone with this ability. Therefore, Berkshire has financed most of its Japanese position with the proceeds from ¥1.3 trillion of bonds. This debt has been very well-received in Japan, and I believe Berkshire has more yen-denominated debt outstanding than any other American company. The weakened yen has produced a yearend gain for Berkshire of $1.9 billion, a sum that, pursuant to GAAP rules, has periodically been recognized in income over the 2020-23 period.

In certain important ways, all five companies – Itochu, Marubeni, Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Sumitomo – follow shareholder-friendly policies that are much superior to those customarily practiced in the U.S. Since we began our Japanese purchases, each of the five has reduced the number of its outstanding shares at attractive prices.

Meanwhile, the managements of all five companies have been far less aggressive about their own compensation than is typical in the United States. Note as well that each of the five is applying only about 1⁄3 of its earnings to dividends. The large sums the five retain are used both to build their many businesses and, to a lesser degree, to repurchase shares. Like Berkshire, the five companies are reluctant to issue shares.

An additional benefit for Berkshire is the possibility that our investment may lead to opportunities for us to partner around the world with five large, well-managed and well-respected companies. Their interests are far more broad than ours. And, on their side, the Japanese CEOs have the comfort of knowing that Berkshire will always possess huge liquid resources that can be instantly available for such partnerships, whatever their size may be.

Our Japanese purchases began on July 4, 2019. Given Berkshire’s present size, building positions through open-market purchases takes a lot of patience and an extended period of “friendly” prices. The process is like turning a battleship. That is an important disadvantage which we did not face in our early days at Berkshire.

The Scorecard in 2023

Every quarter we issue a press release that reports our summarized operating earnings (or loss) in a manner similar to what is shown below. Here is the full-year compilation:

At Berkshire’s annual gathering on May 6, 2023, I presented the first quarter’s results which had been released early that morning. I followed with a short summary of the outlook for the full year: (1) most of our non-insurance businesses faced lower earnings in 2023; (2) that decline would be cushioned by decent results at our two largest non-insurance businesses, BNSF and Berkshire Hathaway Energy (“BHE”) which, combined, had accounted for more than 30% of operating earnings in 2022; (3) our investment income was certain to materially grow because the huge U.S. Treasury bill position held by Berkshire had finally begun to pay us far more than the pittance we had been receiving and (4) insurance would likely do well, both because its underwriting earnings are not correlated to earnings elsewhere in the economy and, beyond that, property-casualty insurance prices had strengthened.

Insurance came through as expected. I erred, however, in my expectations for both BNSF and BHE. Let’s take a look at each.


Rail is essential to America’s economic future. It is clearly the most efficient way – measured by cost, fuel usage and carbon intensity – of moving heavy materials to distant destinations. Trucking wins for short hauls, but many goods that Americans need must travel to customers many hundreds or even several thousands of miles away. The country can’t run without rail, and the industry’s capital needs will always be huge. Indeed, compared to most American businesses, railroads eat capital.

BNSF is the largest of six major rail systems that blanket North America. Our railroad carries its 23,759 miles of main track, 99 tunnels, 13,495 bridges, 7,521 locomotives and assorted other fixed assets at $70 billion on its balance sheet. But my guess is that it would cost at least $500 billion to replicate those assets and decades to complete the job.

BNSF must annually spend more than its depreciation charge to simply maintain its present level of business. This reality is bad for owners, whatever the industry in which they have invested, but it is particularly disadvantageous in capital-intensive industries.

At BNSF, the outlays in excess of GAAP depreciation charges since our purchase 14 years ago have totaled a staggering $22 billion or more than $1 2 billion annually. Ouch! That sort of gap means BNSF dividends paid to Berkshire, its owner, will regularly fall considerably short of BNSF’s reported earnings unless we regularly increase the railroad’s debt. And that we do not intend to do.

Consequently, Berkshire is receiving an acceptable return on its purchase price, though less than it might appear, and also a pittance on the replacement value of the property. That’s no surprise to me or Berkshire’s board of directors. It explains why we could buy BNSF in 2010 at a small fraction of its replacement value.

North America’s rail system moves huge quantities of coal, grain, autos, imported and exported goods, etc. one-way for long distances and those trips often create a revenue problem for back-hauls. Weather conditions are extreme and frequently hamper or even stymie the utilization of track, bridges and equipment. Flooding can be a nightmare. None of this is a surprise. While I sit in an always-comfortable office, railroading is an outdoor activity with many employees working under trying and sometimes dangerous conditions.

An evolving problem is that a growing percentage of Americans are not looking for the difficult, and often lonely, employment conditions inherent in some rail operations. Engineers must deal with the fact that among an American population of 335 million, some forlorn or mentally-disturbed Americans are going to elect suicide by lying in front of a 100-car, extraordinarily heavy train that can’t be stopped in less than a mile or more. Would you like to be the helpless engineer? This trauma happens about once a day in North America; it is far more common in Europe and will always be with us.

Wage negotiations in the rail industry can end up in the hands of the President and Congress. Additionally, American railroads are required to carry many dangerous products every day that the industry would much rather avoid. The words “common carrier” define railroad responsibilities.

Last year BNSF’s earnings declined more than I expected, as revenues fell. Though fuel costs also fell, wage increases, promulgated in Washington, were far beyond the country’s inflation goals. This differential may recur in future negotiations.

Though BNSF carries more freight and spends more on capital expenditures than any of the five other major North American railroads, its profit margins have slipped relative to all five since our purchase. I believe that our vast service territory is second to none and that therefore our margin comparisons can and should improve.

I am particularly proud of both BNSF’s contribution to the country and the people who work in sub-zero outdoor jobs in North Dakota and Montana winters to keep America’s commercial arteries open. Railroads don’t get much attention when they are working but, were they unavailable, the void would be noticed immediately throughout America.

A century from now, BNSF will continue to be a major asset of the country and of Berkshire. You can count on that.


Our second and even more severe earnings disappointment last year occurred at BHE. Most of its large electric-utility businesses, as well as its extensive gas pipelines, performed about as expected. But the regulatory climate in a few states has raised the specter of zero profitability or even bankruptcy (an actual outcome at California’s largest utility and a current threat in Hawaii). In such jurisdictions, it is difficult to project both earnings and asset values in what was once regarded as among the most stable industries in America.

For more than a century, electric utilities raised huge sums to finance their growth through a state-by-state promise of a fixed return on equity (sometimes with a small bonus for superior performance). With this approach, massive investments were made for capacity that would likely be required a few years down the road. That forward-looking regulation reflected the reality that utilities build generating and transmission assets that often take many years to construct. BHE’s extensive multi-state transmission project in the West was initiated in 2006 and remains some years from completion. Eventually, it will serve 10 states comprising 30% of the acreage in the continental United States.

With this model employed by both private and public-power systems, the lights stayed on, even if population growth or industrial demand exceeded expectations. The “margin of safety” approach seemed sensible to regulators, investors and the public. Now, the fixed-but-satisfactory-return pact has been broken in a few states, and investors are becoming apprehensive that such ruptures may spread. Climate change adds to their worries. Underground transmission may be required but who, a few decades ago, wanted to pay the staggering costs for such construction?

At Berkshire, we have made a best estimate for the amount of losses that have occurred. These costs arose from forest fires, whose frequency and intensity have increased – and will likely continue to increase – if convective storms become more frequent.

It will be many years until we know the final tally from BHE’s forest-fire losses and can intelligently make decisions about the desirability of future investments in vulnerable western states. It remains to be seen whether the regulatory environment will change elsewhere.

Other electric utilities may face survival problems resembling those of Pacific Gas and Electric and Hawaiian Electric. A confiscatory resolution of our present problems would obviously be a negative for BHE, but both that company and Berkshire itself are structured to survive negative surprises. We regularly get these in our insurance business, where our basic product is risk assumption, and they will occur elsewhere. Berkshire can sustain financial surprises but we will not knowingly throw good money after bad.

Whatever the case at Berkshire, the final result for the utility industry may be ominous: Certain utilities might no longer attract the savings of American citizens and will be forced to adopt the public-power model. Nebraska made this choice in the 1930s and there are many public-power operations throughout the country. Eventually, voters, taxpayers and users will decide which model they prefer.

When the dust settles, America’s power needs and the consequent capital expenditure will be staggering. I did not anticipate or even consider the adverse developments in regulatory returns and, along with Berkshire’s two partners at BHE, I made a costly mistake in not doing so.


Enough about problems: Our insurance business performed exceptionally well last year, setting records in sales, float and underwriting profits. Property-casualty insurance (“P/C”) provides the core of Berkshire’s well-being and growth. We have been in the business for 57 years and despite our nearly 5,000-fold increase in volume – from $17 million to $83 billion – we have much room to grow.

Beyond that, we have learned – too often, painfully – a good deal about what types of insurance business and what sort of people to avoid. The most important lesson is that our underwriters can be thin, fat, male, female, young, old, foreign or domestic. But they can’t be optimists at the office, however desirable that quality may generally be in life.

Surprises in the P/C business – which can occur decades after six-month or one-year policies have expired – are almost always negative. The industry’s accounting is designed to recognize this reality, but estimation mistakes can be huge. And when charlatans are involved, detection is often both slow and costly. Berkshire will always attempt to be accurate in its estimates of future loss payments but inflation – both monetary and the “legal” variety – is a wild card.

I’ve told the story of our insurance operations so many times that I will simply direct newcomers to page 18. Here, I will only repeat that our position would not be what it is if Ajit Jain had not joined Berkshire in 1986. Before that lucky day – aside from an almost unbelievably wonderful experience with GEICO that began early in 1951 and will never end – I was largely wandering in the wilderness, as I struggled to build our insurance operation.

Ajit’s achievements since joining Berkshire have been supported by a large cast of hugely-talented insurance executives in our various P/C operations. Their names and faces are unknown to most of the press and the public. Berkshire’s lineup of managers, however, is to P/C insurance what Cooperstown’s honorees are to baseball.

Bertie, you can feel good about the fact that you own a piece of an incredible P/C operation that now operates worldwide with unmatched financial resources, reputation and talent. It carried the day in 2023.

What is it with Omaha?

Come to Berkshire’s annual gathering on May 4, 2024. On stage you will see the three managers who now bear the prime responsibilities for steering your company. What, you may wonder, do the three have in common? They certainly don’t look alike. Let’s dig deeper.

Greg Abel, who runs all non-insurance operations for Berkshire – and in all respects is ready to be CEO of Berkshire tomorrow – was born and raised in Canada (he still plays hockey). In the 1990s, however, Greg lived for six years in Omaha just a few blocks away from me. During that period, I never met him.

A decade or so earlier, Ajit Jain, who was born, raised and educated in India, lived with his family in Omaha only a mile or so from my home (where I’ve lived since 1958). Both Ajit and his wife, Tinku, have many Omaha friends, though it’s been more than three decades since they moved to New York (in order to be where much of the action in reinsurance takes place).

Missing from the stage this year will be Charlie. He and I were both born in Omaha about two miles from where you will sit at our May get-together. In his first ten years, Charlie lived about a half-mile from where Berkshire has long maintained its office. Both Charlie and I spent our early years in Omaha public schools and were indelibly shaped by our Omaha childhood. We didn’t meet, however, until much later. (A footnote that may surprise you: Charlie lived under 15 of America’s 45 presidents. People refer to President Biden as #46, but that numbering counts Grover Cleveland as both #22 and #24 because his terms were not consecutive. America is a very young country.)

Moving to the corporate level, Berkshire itself relocated in 1970 from its 81 years of residence in New England to settle in Omaha, leaving its troubles behind and blossoming in its new home.

As a final punctuation point to the “Omaha Effect,” Bertie – yes that Bertie – spent her early formative years in a middle-class neighborhood in Omaha and, many decades later, emerged as one of the country’s great investors.

You may be thinking that she put all of her money in Berkshire and then simply sat on it. But that’s not true. After starting a family in 1956, Bertie was active financially for 20 years: holding bonds, putting 1⁄3 of her funds in a publicly-held mutual fund and trading stocks with some frequency. Her potential remained unnoticed.

Then, in 1980, when 46, and independent of any urgings from her brother, Bertie decided to make her move. Retaining only the mutual fund and Berkshire, she made no new trades during the next 43 years. During that period, she became very rich, even after making large philanthropic gifts (think nine figures).

Millions of American investors could have followed her reasoning which involved only the common sense she had somehow absorbed as a child in Omaha. And, taking no chances, Bertie returns to Omaha every May to be re-energized.


So what is going on? Is it Omaha’s water? Is it Omaha’s air? Is it some strange planetary phenomenon akin to that which has produced Jamaica’s sprinters, Kenya’s marathon runners, or Russia’s chess experts? Must we wait until AI someday yields the answer to this puzzle?

Keep an open mind. Come to Omaha in May, inhale the air, drink the water and say “hi” to Bertie and her good-looking daughters. Who knows? There is no downside, and, in any event, you will have a good time and meet a huge crowd of friendly people.

To top things off, we will have available the new 4th edition of Poor Charlie’s Almanack. Pick up a copy. Charlie’s wisdom will improve your life as it has mine.

February 24, 2024

Warren E. Buffett Chairman of the Board

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