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Warren Buffett's letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders: 5 things to watch for

25 February 2018

Alex Behring, chairman of the board, said Buffett made "many invaluable contributions" to the company. The compounded annual return over the last 53 years is 19.1%.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc on Saturday reported a record quarterly and annual profit, benefiting from a lower USA corporate income tax rate.

The billionaire and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway highlighted a $29 billion tax gain for his company, bemoaned a lack of good deals and reminded his readers that owning stocks through low-priced index funds was the best way to build wealth over time.

In 2017, Berkshire's cash hoard rose 34.2% to $116 billion from the previous year.

He also spent much of the letter explaining Berkshire's results for 2017, which were aided by a huge gain on the recent U.S. tax overhaul.

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Buffett acknowledges in the annual letter, which was published on Saturday, that the economy is volatile, and that the markets "occasionally do insane things".

Buffett got a $29 billion boost to net earnings in the fourth quarter from the tax code changes.

The company's full-year earnings shot up 87 per cent to $44.9bn, though Buffett admitted only $36bn came from Berkshire's operations. "Indeed, price nearly seemed relevant to an army of optimistic purchasers", wrote Buffett.

Price proved to be the barrier to a new, big-time acquisition in 2017, Buffett said.

Not so for Berkshire, Buffett said. Van Damme is also board member of Anheuser-Busch Inbev and Restaurant Brands International.

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The Republican tax law was signed into law in December 2017.

Berkshire's overall performance was hurt by an after-tax $2.2 billion loss in its insurance underwriting unit, which had to pay out large claims following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as for natural disaster victims in Mexico and people hurt by California's wildfires.

Book value per Class A share, which reflects assets minus liabilities and which Buffett considers a good yardstick for Berkshire's intrinsic worth, was $211,750 at the end of the year, up 13 percent from three months earlier.

Turning to investments, Berkshire's Apple holding was up to $28.2B at year-end, second only to Wells Fargo at $29.3B.

Buffett touted his win in a bet that he made 10 years ago, in which he basically wagered that a low-priced index fund tracking the S&P 500 stock index would post better returns over the next decade than a portfolio of five fund of funds run by high-fee hedge fund managers, often considered the "smart money" on Wall Street.

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Buffett urged investors to stick with stocks even though they can be riskier in the short-term.

Warren Buffett's letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders: 5 things to watch for