Berkshire Hathway's Uncommon Accounting
Edmund W. Kitch
University of Virginia School of Law
Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1997) (Symposium on the Essays of Warren Buffett).
Berkshire Hathaway's reporting practices are different than those of other American public companies. Bershire Hathaway provides separate and additional summary accounting statements which are not in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles, provides look-through earnings that include the pro-rata share of portfolio companies, and explicitly discusses the relationship between economic realities and accounting conventions. Why is this style of reporting, which provides additional information to shareholders, so atypical? Possible answers include legal risks, job insecurity among managers, and the desire to protect strategically important information. As to the last two, Berkshire Hathaway is atypically situated. Even though uncommon, its style of reporting appears to have worked for Bershire Hathaway. Although it is very similar to a closed-end investment company, it sells at a premium to net asset value unlike most closed-end investment companies. Other issuers might benefit from emulating a reporting style that treats shareholders as grown ups and partners.
Date posted: September 26, 1997
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