1. Since Warren Buffett took the helm in 1964, Berkshire Hathaway Inc (NYSE:BRK.B) has never underperformed the S&P 500 over any five-year interval.
2. If you had taken $10,000 back then and achieved the same rate of return as Berkshire Hathaway Inc (NYSE:BRK.B)’s growth in per share book value, at the end of 2012, you would have had $58,681,700.
3. Under Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway Inc (NYSE:BRK.B) shareholders have collected just one dividend: a $0.10 per share payout in 1967. Buffett jokes he “must have been in the bathroom when that decision was made.”
4. Berkshire Hathaway Inc (NYSE:BRK.B)’s roots go back more than 174 years to the founding of textile manufacturer Valley Falls Company, which itself merged with Berkshire Hathaway Inc (NYSE:BRK.B) Cotton Manufacturing Company in 1929. The resulting company merged with Hathaway Manufacturing to create Berkshire Hathaway Inc (NYSE:BRK.B) in 1955.
5. In 2010, Warren Buffett said he considered Berkshire the “dumbest” stock he ever bought. Why? Because in 1962 he acquired his controlling stake in anger when one of its managers short-changed him in a tender offer to the tune of $0.125 per share. After he fired the manager, Buffett realized he had committed too much of his money to a “terrible” textiles business, which he fought to save for 20 years before giving up. By Buffett’s estimation, that mistake cost him more $200 billion in compounded returns.
6. In 1981, just 12 people attended Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting. This year, an estimated 35,000 shareholders are expected to make the trip to Omaha.
7. Over the course of just nine hours at last year’s annual meeting, Berkshire shareholders bought 1,090 pairs of Justin Boots, 10,010 pounds of See’s candy, 12,879 Quikut knives, and 5,784 pairs of Wells Lamont gloves. No wonder Buffett joked a few months ago, “Anyone who says money can’t buy happiness simply hasn’t shopped at our meeting.”
8. At the end of 2012, Berkshire employed 288,462 people.
9. Only 24 of those employees work at Berkshire’s headquarters office — a testament to Buffett’s decentralized management structure, which entrusts business unit leaders to make the best possible decisions with minimal bureaucracy.
10. Not including its equity holdings and recently acquired 50% stake in H.J. Heinz Company (NYSE:HNZ), Berkshire is made up of 56 distinct subsidiary businesses.
11. That doesn’t include the 26 smaller companies on which Berkshire quietly spent $2.3 billion last year as “bolt-on” acquisitions to be melded into its existing operations.
12. In keeping with his principles on maintaining an adequate margin of safety, Buffett insists on keeping at least $20 billion in cash on Berkshire’s balance sheet at any given time.
13. Berkshire’s insurance operations have registered an underwriting profit for the past ten consecutive years, good for a total pre-tax gain of $18.6 billion — and an incredible feat in the insurance industry. For some context, consider rival insurer State Farm (a well-managed company in its own right) has operated at an underwriting loss for nine of the last 12 years.
14. GEICO’s Gecko got a mention in Buffett’s latest shareholder letter in praise for the company’s outstanding performance. “Neither rain nor storm nor gloom of night can stop him,” Buffett wrote, “the little lizard just soldiers on, telling Americans how they can save big money going to GEICO.com.”
Still, I think the night vision antelopes deserve at least some credit:
15. Berkshire’s MidAmerican Energy unit currently accounts for 6% of the United States’ total wind generation capacity.
16. When MidAmerican completes its three solar projects currently under construction, it will own around 14% of total U.S. solar-generation capacity.
17. Construction began just a few days ago on one of those projects, the 579 Megawatt Antelope Valley Solar joint venture with SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR). When all is said and done, it will have provided 650 jobs and more than $500 million in regional economic impact over the course of its three-year construction period, and should provide enough energy to power around 400,000 average California homes.
18. Berkshire’s currently carries about 15% of all inter-city freight in the U.S. through its Burlington Northern Santa Fe subsidiary. That calculation includes all goods transported by truck, rail, water, air, or pipeline.
19. Even better, BNSF is able to carry each ton of freight about 500 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel, which is around four times more efficient than the trucking industry.