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September 22, 2019

Berkshire Hathaway abandons “book value per share” practice


Berkshire Hathaway has abandoned its long-time practice of featuring the percentage change in its per-share book value.

In his annual letter dated February 23, 2019, to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, chairman Warren Buffett said: “Long-time readers of our annual reports will have spotted the different way in which I opened this letter. For nearly three decades, the initial paragraph featured the percentage change in Berkshire’s per-share book value. It’s now time to abandon that practice.”

Why is this so?

Warren Buffett explained: “The fact is that the annual change in Berkshire’s book value – which makes its farewell appearance on page 2 – is a metric that has lost the relevance it once had. “

Mr Buffett cited three circumstances.

“First, Berkshire has gradually morphed from a company whose assets are concentrated in marketable stocks into one whose major value resides in operating businesses. Charlie (Munger) and I expect that reshaping to continue in an irregular manner.” Charlie Munger is Berkshire Hathaway’s vice-chairman.

“Second, while our equity holdings are valued at market prices, accounting rules require our collection of operating companies to be included in book value at an amount far below their current value, a mismark that has grown in recent years,” said Warren Buffett.

“Third, it is likely that – over time – Berkshire will be a significant repurchaser of its shares, transactions that will take place at prices above book value but below our estimate of intrinsic value. The math of such purchases is simple: Each transaction makes per-share intrinsic value go up, while per-share book value goes down. That combination causes the book-value scorecard to become increasingly out of touch with economic reality.”

Giving an insight into future tabulations, the legendary investor said: “…We expect to focus on Berkshire’s market price. Markets can be extremely capricious: Just look at the 54-year history laid out on page 2. Over time, however, Berkshire’s stock price will provide the best measure of business performance.”

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