2021 Berkshire Annual Letter

BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INC. To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.:
  • Many people perceive Berkshire as a large and somewhat strange collection of financial assets. In truth, Berkshire owns and operates more U.S.-based “infrastructure” assets — classified on our balance sheet as property, plant and equipment — than are owned and operated by any other American corporation. That supremacy has never been our goal. It has, however, become a fact.
  • At yearend, those domestic infrastructure assets were carried on Berkshire’s balance sheet at $158 billion. That number increased last year and will continue to increase. Berkshire always will be building.
  • Every year, your company makes substantial federal income tax payments. In 2021, for example, we paid $3.3 billion while the U.S. Treasury reported total corporate income-tax receipts of $402 billion. Additionally, Berkshire pays substantial state and foreign taxes. “I gave at the office” is an unassailable assertion when made by Berkshire shareholders.
  • Berkshire’s history vividly illustrates the invisible and often unrecognized financial partnership between government and American businesses. Our tale begins early in 1955, when Berkshire Fine Spinning and Hathaway Manufacturing agreed to merge their businesses. In their requests for shareholder approval, these venerable New England textile companies expressed high hopes for the combination.
  • The Hathaway solicitation, for example, assured its shareholders that “The combination of the resources and managements will result in one of the strongest and most efficient organizations in the textile industry.” That upbeat view was endorsed by the company’s advisor, Lehman Brothers (yes, that Lehman Brothers).
  • I’m sure it was a joyous day in both Fall River (Berkshire) and New Bedford (Hathaway) when the union was consummated. After the bands stopped playing and the bankers went home, however, the shareholders reaped a disaster.
  • In the nine years following the merger, Berkshire’s owners watched the company’s net worth crater from $51.4 million to $22.1 million. In part, this decline was caused by stock repurchases, ill-advised dividends and plant shutdowns. But nine years of effort by many thousands of employees delivered an operating loss as well. Berkshire’s struggles were not unusual: The New England textile industry had silently entered an extended and non-reversible death march.
  • During the nine post-merger years, the U.S. Treasury suffered as well from Berkshire’s troubles. All told, the company paid the government only $337,359 in income tax during that period — a pathetic $100 per day.
  • Early in 1965, things changed. Berkshire installed new management that redeployed available cash and steered essentially all earnings into a variety of good businesses, most of which remained good through the years. Coupling reinvestment of earnings with the power of compounding worked its magic, and shareholders prospered.
  • Berkshire’s owners, it should be noted, were not the only beneficiary of that course correction. Their “silent partner,” the U.S. Treasury, proceeded to collect many tens of billions of dollars from the company in income tax payments. Remember the $100 daily? Now, Berkshire pays roughly $9 million daily to the Treasury.
  • Apple — our runner-up Giant as measured by its yearend market value — is a different sort of holding. Here, our ownership is a mere 5.55%, up from 5.39% a year earlier. That increase sounds like small potatoes. But consider that each 0.1% of Apple’s 2021 earnings amounted to $100 million. We spent no Berkshire funds to gain our accretion. Apple’s repurchases did the job.
  • It’s important to understand that only dividends from Apple are counted in the GAAP earnings Berkshire reports — and last year, Apple paid us $785 million of those. Yet our “share” of Apple’s earnings amounted to a staggering $5.6 billion. Much of what the company retained was used to repurchase Apple shares, an act we applaud. Tim Cook, Apple’s brilliant CEO, quite properly regards users of Apple products as his first love, but all of his other constituencies benefit from Tim’s managerial touch as well.
  • BNSF, our third Giant, continues to be the number one artery of American commerce, which makes it an indispensable asset for America as well as for Berkshire. If the many essential products BNSF carries were instead hauled by truck, America’s carbon emissions would soar.
  • Your railroad had record earnings of $6 billion in 2021. Here, it should be noted, we are talking about the old-fashioned sort of earnings that we favor: a figure calculated after interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization and all forms of compensation. (Our definition suggests a warning: Deceptive “adjustments” to earnings — to use a polite description — have become both more frequent and more fanciful as stocks have risen. Speaking less politely, I would say that bull markets breed bloviated bull . . ..)
  • BNSF trains traveled 143 million miles last year and carried 535 million tons of cargo. Both accomplishments far exceed those of any other American carrier. You can be proud of your railroad.
  • BHE, our final Giant, earned a record $4 billion in 2021. That’s up more than 30-fold from the $122 million earned in 2000, the year that Berkshire first purchased a BHE stake. Now, Berkshire owns 91.1% of the company.
  • BHE’s record of societal accomplishment is as remarkable as its financial performance. The company had no wind or solar generation in 2000. It was then regarded simply as a relatively new and minor participant in the huge electric utility industry. Subsequently, under David Sokol’s and Greg Abel’s leadership, BHE has become a utility powerhouse (no groaning, please) and a leading force in wind, solar and transmission throughout much of the United States.
  • Greg’s report on these accomplishments appears on pages A-3 and A-4. The profile you will find there is not in any way one of those currently-fashionable “green-washing” stories. BHE has been faithfully detailing its plans and performance in renewables and transmissions every year since 2007.
  • To further review this information, visit BHE’s website at brkenergy.com. There, you will see that the company has long been making climate-conscious moves that soak up all of its earnings. More opportunities lie ahead. BHE has the management, the experience, the capital and the appetite for the huge power projects that our country needs.

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Anshu Sharma

Anshu Sharma

CEO, Skyflow Privacy Vault, an API company.