Berkshire Hathaway profit up 10 percent amid railroad gains

By Reuters

May 01, 2015 06:26 PM EDT

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc on Friday said first-quarter profit rose 10 percent, and operating results easily beat forecasts, boosted by its railroad and insurance businesses and gains from derivatives.

Net income rose to $5.16 billion, or $3,143 per share, from $4.71 billion, or $2,862, a year earlier.

Quarterly operating profit increased 20 percent to $4.24 billion, or $2,583 per share, from $3.53 billion, or $2,149. Analysts on average expected operating profit of about $2,373 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 7 percent to $48.64 billion. Book value per share, Buffett's preferred measure of growth, rose 0.5 percent from year-end to $146,963.

Results were released one day before Berkshire's annual meeting in Omaha, where shareholders are expected to celebrate Buffett's 50th anniversary at Berkshire's helm.

Buffett and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger will field five hours of questions at the meeting, which is expected to draw more than 40,000 shareholders. It is part of a weekend of events throughout Omaha that Buffett calls "Woodstock for Capitalists."

Profit from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad totaled $1.05 billion, up 44 percent from a year earlier, when bad weather and congestion led to what Berkshire called "substandard" service that left many customers unhappy.

Berkshire attributed the better performance this year to increased capacity, new equipment and other upgrades made as part of a $6 billion capital improvement program that will continue this year.

Once a struggling textile mill, Berkshire now has more than 80 operating companies in insurance, energy, food, railroad and other sectors, and owns more than $115 billion of stocks.

Major stock holdings include American Express Co, Coca-Cola Co, International Business Machines Corp and Wells Fargo & Co.

Berkshire also ended the quarter with $63.71 billion of cash, enough to fund one or more giant acquisitions.

In Friday trading, Berkshire Class A shares closed up $2,400 at $215,800, and its Class B shares rose $2.15 to $143.36.

The shares are about 6 percent below their record highs set last Dec. 8. Berkshire's market value is roughly $355 billion, ranking fifth among publicly-traded U.S. companies.

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