Coming off 2005 utility results in which net earnings tripled to more than half-a-billion-dollars, Berkshire Hathaway’s growth-hungry MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. is looking at a two-fold jump in its electric utility customer base to more than 2.4 million, revenues of more than $3 billion and a total portfolio of utility energy assets exceeding $14 billion. These are the numbers Berkshire’s billionaire founder and CEO Warren Buffett spelled out in a letter to shareholders posted on the parent conglomerate’s website earlier this month.
Even without PacifiCorp in last year’s results, Buffett said the U.S. utility operations, along with Kern River interstate natural gas pipeline operations, pulled in nearly $600 million of income before corporate interest and taxes. Kern River contributed $309 million out of the $1.16 billion before interest/taxes.
With the repeal last year of the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA), Buffett noted that Berkshire earlier this year converted its 80% ownership of MidAmerican from preferred to common shares of stock. The utility operations continue to be what he called a “four-party ownership” among Berkshire, Walter Scott and the utility holding company’s CEO and president, respectively, Dave Sokol and Greg Abel. The foursome has to be in agreement before MidAmerican will pursue an acquisition or business strategy, Buffett said.
“Five years of working with Dave, Greg and Walter have underscored my original belief — Berkshire couldn’t have better partners,” Buffett wrote in his shareholder letter.
Buffett told his shareholders he doesn’t expect “outsized profits” from the regulated utility business, but it offers “fair returns” on large investments, and he made it clear the company is looking to acquire more utilities beyond last year’s PacifiCorp purchase, which closed last Tuesday.
MidAmerican’s varied assets include United Kingdom-based utilities, Yorkshire Electricity and Northern Electric, which showed $308 million in earnings before interest and taxes last year, compared to $326 million in 2004; its Iowa-based utility operations, which earned $288 million before interest/taxes in 2005, compared with $268 million the previous year; Kern River Pipeline, which brought in profits before interest and taxes of $309 million last year, compared to $288 million in 2004; and even the nation’s second largest real estate brokerage firm, HomeServices of America, which had earnings before interest and taxes of $148 million last year, compared with $130 million for the previous year.
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