April 3, 1970
To the Stockholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.:
Four years ago your management committed itself to the development of more substantial and more consistent earning power than appeared possible if capital continued to be invested exclusively in the textile industry. The funds for this program were temporarily utilized in marketable securities, pending the acquisition of operating businesses meeting our investment and management criteria.
This policy has proved reasonably successful—particularly when contrasted with results achieved by firms which have continued to commit large sums to textile expansion in the face of totally inadequate returns. We have been able to conclude two major purchases of operating businesses, and their successful operations enabled Berkshire Hathaway to achieve an over-all return of more than 10% on average stockholders’ equity last year in the face of less than a 5% return from the portion of our capital employed in the textile business. We have liquidated our entire holdings of marketable securities over the last two years at a profit of more than $5 million after taxes. These gains provided important funds to facilitate our major purchase of 1969, when borrowed money to finance acquisitions was generally most difficult to obtain.
We anticipate no further purchases of marketable securities, but our search for desirable acquisitions continues. Any acquisition will, of course, be dependent upon obtaining appropriate financing.
Dollar sales volume in 1969 was approximately 12% below 1968. Net earnings were slightly higher despite substantial operating losses incurred in the termination of our Box Loom Division. Earnings on capital employed improved modestly but still remain unsatisfactory despite strenuous efforts toward improvement.
We are presently in the midst of a textile recession of greater intensity than we have seen for some years. There is an over-all lack of demand for textile products in a great many end uses. This lack of demand has required curtailment of production to avoid inventory build-up. Both our Menswear Lining Division and Home Fabrics Division have been forced to schedule two-week shutdowns during the first quarter of 1970, but inventories remain on the high side. The slowdown in demand appears even greater than that normally occurring in the cyclical textile market. Recovery from this cycle will probably be dependent upon Federal Government action on economic factors they can control.
We have concentrated our textile operations in those areas that appear, from historical performance and from our market projections, to be potentially satisfactory businesses. Improvements have been made in our mill operations which, under better industry conditions, should produce substantial cost reductions. However, the present picture is for lower profits in this business during 1970.
Jack Ringwalt and his outstanding management group turned in new records in just about every department during 1969. During another year in which the fire and casualty insurance industry experienced substantial underwriting losses, our insurance subsidiaries achieved significant adjusted underwriting profits. Since establishment of the business in 1941, Mr. Ringwalt has held to the principle of underwriting for a profit—a policy which is frequently talked about within the industry but much less frequently achieved.
Our new surety department, although small, made good progress during the year. We are entering the workmen’s compensation market in California through the establishment of a branch office in Los Angeles. Our new reinsurance division seems to be off to a strong start, although the nature of this business is such that it takes at least several years to render an intelligent verdict as to operating results. We also have interesting plans for a new “home state” insurance operation.
Phil Liesche—over 20 years a major contributor to outstanding results in the production and underwriting departments—was elected Executive Vice President early this year.
Expectations are for continued growth in our insurance operations.
The most significant event of 1969 for Berkshire Hathaway was the acquisition of 97.7% of the stock of The Illinois National Bank and Trust Co. of Rockford, Illinois. This bank had been built by Eugene Abegg, without addition of outside capital, from $250,000 of net worth and $400,000 of deposits in 1931 to $17 million of net worth and $100 million of deposits in 1969. Mr. Abegg has continued as Chairman and produced record operating earnings (before security losses) of approximately $2 million in 1969. Such earnings, as a percentage of either deposits or total assets, are close to the top among larger commercial banks in the country which are not primarily trust department operations. It will not be easy to achieve greater earnings in 1970 because (1) our bank is already a highly efficient business, and (2) the unit banking law of Illinois makes more than modest deposit growth difficult for a major downtown bank.
After almost a year of ownership, we are delighted with our investment in Illinois National Bank, and our association with Mr. Abegg.
Kenneth V. Chace