On Buffett’s 2010 Letter to Shareholders

Warren BuffettHere is Warren Buffett’s 2010 Letter to Shareholders if you haven’t seen it already.

It was a very good letter overall, with Buffett providing his usual wisdom and wit. This year, he didn’t have to review the basics as he did in 2009 for the new Burlington Northern shareholders, so there was even more wisdom about Buffett’s methodologies and Berkshire’s businesses than usual.

He spends some time in the letter talking about Berkshire’s culture, which is an extremely important yet overlooked part of their past and future success. It is this culture that will allow Buffett to continue to “run” the company for many years after his death. That’s what Berkshire shareholders and the media should focus on instead of worrying so much about succession.

One thing is clear: Buffett may not run the companies that Berkshire owns, but he knows the numbers cold. Of course, that’s always been the case. For every kind of business, he knows the metrics that matter most and the determinants that drive success over time. Sometimes, he even knows it better than the managers themselves (and he’s a much better manager than he’d like to admit in his letters).

For investors, one of the most insightful parts of both Buffett’s letters and annual meetings is how he thinks about and evaluates businesses. In this letter, he didn’t disappoint by providing more insight on how he evaluates Berkshire’s holdings. GEICO was one specific example. The value of policyholders for many insurance companies is zero or even less than zero — these companies are worth tangible book value and no more. But GEICO, according to Buffett’s evaluation, has an extremely valuable base of policyholders: worth about $14 billion, or 97% of annual premium volume.

Number-wise, Buffett provided his estimate of the normalized earnings power of Berkshire’s operations — which at $17 billion, is higher than the reported amount in 2010. These earnings alone would give Berkshire a current pre-tax yield of over 8%, and that doesn’t include any new investments or future gains on their $158 billion in investments.

This valuation compares very favorably to many large-caps in the S&P 500. I think Berkshire is worth at least $100 per “B” share, if not more if Buffett can continue to deploy capital into good, growing businesses.

You can see the above comments in addition to commentary from other Berkshire shareholders in this WSJ blog post: “Here is What People Are Saying About Buffett’s Letter

Braewick Holdings LP owns shares in Berkshire Hathaway. We reserve the right to buy or sell them at any time.

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