To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.:
Berkshire earned $81.4 billion in 2019 according to generally accepted accounting principles (commonly called “GAAP”). The components of that figure are $24 billion of operating earnings, $3.7 billion of realized capital gains and a $53.7 billion gain from an increase in the amount of net unrealized capital gains that exist in the stocks we hold. Each of those components of earnings is stated on an after-tax basis.
That $53.7 billion gain requires comment. It resulted from a new GAAP rule, imposed in 2018, that requires a company holding equity securities to include in earnings the net change in the unrealized gains and losses of those securities. As we stated in last year’s letter, neither Charlie Munger, my partner in managing Berkshire, nor I agree with that rule.
The adoption of the rule by the accounting profession, in fact, was a monumental shift in its own thinking. Before 2018, GAAP insisted – with an exception for companies whose business was to trade securities – that unrealized gains within a portfolio of stocks were never to be included in earnings and unrealized losses were to be included only if they were deemed “other than temporary.” Now, Berkshire must enshrine in each quarter’s bottom line – a key item of news for many investors, analysts and commentators – every up and down movement of the stocks it owns, however capricious those fluctuations may be.https://fm.cnbc.com/applications/cnbc.com/resources/files/2020/02/22/2019ltr.pdf