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By
Reuters
Published
May 5, 2007
Reading time
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Berkshire Hathaway profit rises 12 pct

By
Reuters
Published
May 5, 2007

By Jonathan Stempel

OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said on Friday first-quarter profit rose 12 percent as earnings surged in its insurance and utilities businesses.

Net income for the Omaha, Nebraska-based insurance and investment company rose to $2.6 billion (1.3 billion pounds), or $1,682 per Class A share, from $2.31 billion, or $1,501, a year earlier. Revenue soared 45 percent to $32.92 billion.

Operating profit, excluding investment gains and losses, rose 24 percent to $2.21 billion, or $1,434 per share. On that basis, analysts on average had expected profit of $1,447 per share, according to Reuters Estimates.

"Results looked solid," said Thomas Russo, who helps invest $3 billion at Gardner Russo & Gardner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, including 8 percent in Berkshire. "It's a good start to the year, given that so much of their insurance results are in quarters still to come."

While operating earnings just missed forecasts, Russo said Buffett's investing track record "liberates him to invest in a way to build long-term, even if it means short-term disappointments. That's really the story of earnings."

Profit from insurance underwriting rose 82 percent to $601 million, and investment income from insurance rose 6 percent to $748 million.

Meanwhile, profit in non-insurance businesses rose 16 percent to $894 million. The March 2006 acquisition of western U.S. utility PacifiCorp helped boost pretax energy and utility profit 26 percent.

Results were released ahead of Saturday's annual meeting in Omaha, which is expected to draw more than 24,000 people.

The meeting is part of a weekend of events that Buffett dubs "Woodstock for Capitalists." Russo said he is attending for a 23rd straight year.

Known as the Oracle of Omaha, Buffett has transformed Berkshire since 1965 from a failing textile company into a $169 billion conglomerate by buying out-of-favour companies with strong management and businesses, and investing in stocks.

Forbes magazine in March called him the world's second-richest person, after Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates.

Berkshire's Class A shares closed Friday up $650 at $109,250 and its Class B shares rose $13.25 to $3,631. The Class A shares have risen 24 percent in the last year, while the Standard & Poor's 500 .SPX and insurance indexes are up 15 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

INSURANCE PREMIUMS SOAR

Insurance usually generates more than half of Berkshire's profit. Premiums more than doubled to $13.51 billion, including about $7.1 billion from the Equitas reinsurance agreement that took effect on March 30.

Profit fell 5 percent at Geico Corp., as the auto insurer cut rates in some markets, though premiums rose 8 percent. Earnings rose sixfold at Berkshire's reinsurance group as storm losses fell, while General Re Corp.'s profit

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