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Berkshire Hathaway Writes Off What It Wants When It Wants

October 25, 2010

Warren Buffett’s holding company Berkshire Hathaway certainly has an interesting way of replying to questions from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC queried the company back in April about why it did not take write-downs on shares that had experienced $1.86 billion in unrealized losses for at least a year, according to a report by Reuters on Monday. The SEC wondered whether those losses appeared to be somewhat more than temporary.

In response, Berkshire CFO Marc Hamburg said the losses were mostly in shares of Kraft and US Bancorp that the company had bought back in 2006 and 2007.

"We believe it is reasonably possible that the market prices of Kraft Foods and U.S. Bancorp will recover to our cost within the next one to two years assuming that there are no material adverse events affecting these companies or the industries in which they operate," Hamburg wrote.

He pointed out that the stocks bounced back by double-digit percentages in the first quarter. However, that still doesn’t mean that Berkshire can rewrite the accounting rules to please itself.

Separately, the company announced Monday that it has hired Todd Combs of Castle Point Capital as investment manager. Speculation is already rife that Berkshire could be grooming the 39-year-old to be the successor to the 80-year-old Oracle of Omaha.

“For three years Charlie Munger and I have been looking for someone of Todd’s caliber to handle a significant portion of Berkshire’s investment portfolio,” Buffett said in a statement. “We are delighted that Todd will be joining us.”

No word yet on whether Combs’s letter-writing style is anywhere near as folksy and engaging as his new boss’s.

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