On Friday, Berkshire reported net income of $4.54 billion, or $2,763 per Class A share. That's up from $3.1 billion, or $1,882 per Class A share, last year.
The biggest factor behind the big swing in earnings was the estimated value of Berkshire's investments and derivatives. This year, those were worth $622 million. Last year, Berkshire recorded a $612 million paper loss on those.
Berkshire's revenue grew 16 per cent to $44.69 billion as its more than 80 subsidiaries generally performed well.
The three analysts surveyed by FactSet expected Berkshire to report earnings per Class A share of $2,163.63.
Several years ago, Berkshire sold derivative contracts that are tied to either the value of several global stock indexes or credit defaults. Berkshire must estimate the value of those contracts every time it reports earnings even though the contracts won't mature for at least several more years.
So the true value of the derivatives won't be known until later, but they can create big swings in Berkshire's net income from quarter to quarter.
Without Berkshire's investments and derivatives, the company based in Omaha, Neb., reported operating earnings of $3.92 billion, or $2,384 per Class A share. That's up from $3.72 billion a year ago, or $2,252 per Class A share.
Berkshire's BNSF railroad performed well in the quarter and contributed $884 million to the conglomerate's profits, up from $802 million a year ago.
BNSF said volume was up 3 per cent this year and rates improved 2 per cent as the railroad hauled more coal, crude oil and intermodal containers of products. Berkshire said higher natural gas prices and low utility stockpiles drove coal demand higher.
Berkshire's insurance businesses, which include reinsurance giant General Re and car insurer Geico, contributed $530 million to Berkshire's net income in the quarter. That was down from $619 million last year mostly because Berkshire recorded $189 million in pretax losses related to flooding in Europe.
Berkshire owns an assortment of companies, including clothing, furniture and jewelry firms. Its insurance and utility businesses typically account for more than half of the company's net income. It also has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.
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Berkshire Hathaway Inc.: www.berkshirehathaway.com