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Buffett's firm says 4Q profit up 15 percent on investments

JOSH FUNK
FILE - In this June 14, 2016 file photo, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett addresses the White House Summit on the United State of Women in Washington. Buffett is planning to release his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. The letter is always one of the best-read business documents every year because of Buffett's knack for explaining complex issues in simple terms and because of his remarkably successful investing record. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Warren Buffett's company says fourth-quarter profit improved 15 percent, but most of the gains came from the paper value of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s investments and derivatives contracts.

The Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate released its latest results Saturday along with Buffett's annual letter to shareholders.

Berkshire said it earned $6.29 billion, or $2.55 per Class B share. That's up from $5.48 billion, or $3.65 per Class B share.

The analysts surveyed by FactSet expected earnings per Class B share of $1.82, although they generally exclude investments and derivatives from their estimates. Berkshire said those operating earnings totaled $1.78 per Class B share.

Berkshire generated $58.3 billion revenue in the quarter, up from $51.7 billion a year earlier.

Berkshire's investments and derivatives were worth roughly $1.2 billion at the end of the quarter, up from $399 million. That overshadowed the 6 percent profit decline at Berkshire's operating businesses.

Buffett has said operating earnings offer a better view of quarterly performance because they exclude investments and derivatives, which can vary widely.

Edward Jones analyst Jim Shanahan said he didn't see many surprises in Buffett's letter. The lack of any additional details on Berkshire's plan to eventually replace the 86-year-old Buffett as chairman and CEO suggests little has changed in the company's plan to split Buffett's job into three parts: chief executive officer, chairman and several investment managers.

"A little more visibility on succession might have been helpful," Shanahan said.

Buffett has said that all the CEO candidates are managers who already work at Berkshire and understand the company's culture well. Two investment managers, who each manage about $10 billion of Berkshire's assets are in place already.

For the full year, Berkshire's earnings were nearly flat at $24.07 billion, or $16.05 per Class B share.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns more than 90 companies, including railroad, clothing, furniture and jewelry firms. Its insurance and utility businesses typically account for more than half of the company's net income. The company also has major investments in such companies as American Express, IBM and Wells Fargo & Co.

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