Our gain in net worth during 2007 was $12.3 billion, which increased the per-share book value of both our Class A and Class B stock by 11%. Over the last 43 years (that is, since present management took over) book value has grown from $19 to $78,008, a rate of 21.1% compounded annually.*
You may recall a 2003 Silicon Valley bumper sticker that implored, "Please, God, Just One More Bubble." Unfortunately, this wish was promptly granted, as just about all Americans came to believe that house prices would forever rise. That conviction made a borrower's income and cash equity seem unimportant to lenders, who shoveled out money, confident that HPA - house price appreciation - would cure all problems. Today, our country is experiencing widespread pain because of that erroneous belief.
As house prices fall, a huge amount of financial folly is being exposed. You only learn who has been swimming naked when the tide goes out - and what we are witnessing at some of our largest financial institutions is an ugly sight.
We made one large sale last year. In 2002 and 2003 Berkshire bought 1.3% of PetroChina for $488 million, a price that valued the entire business at about $37 billion. Charlie and I then felt that the company was worth about $100 billion. By 2007, two factors had materially increased its value: the price of oil had climbed significantly, and PetroChina's management had done a great job in building oil and gas reserves. In the second half of last year, the market value of the company rose to $275 billion, about what we thought it was worth compared to other giant oil companies. So we sold our holdings for $4 billion.
A footnote: We paid the IRS tax of $1.2 billion on our PetroChina gain. This sum paid all costs of the U.S. government - defense, social security, you name it - for about four hours.
How realistic is this expectation? Let's revisit some data I mentioned two years ago: During the 20th Century, the Dow advanced from 66 to 11,497. This gain, though it appears huge, shrinks to 5.3% when compounded annually. An investor who owned the Dow throughout the century would also have received generous dividends for much of the period, but only about 2% or so in the final years. It was a wonderful century.
Think now about this century. For investors to merely match that 5.3% market-value gain, the Dow - recently below 13,000 - would need to close at about 2,000,000 on December 31, 2099. We are now eight years into this century, and we have racked up less than 2,000 of the 1,988,000 Dow points the market needed to travel in this hundred years to equal the 5.3% of the last.
At 84 and 77, Charlie and I remain lucky beyond our dreams. We were born in America; had terrific parents who saw that we got good educations; have enjoyed wonderful families and great health; and came equipped with a "business" gene that allows us to prosper in a manner hugely disproportionate to that experienced by many people who contribute as much or more to our society's well-being. Moreover, we have long had jobs that we love, in which we are helped in countless ways by talented and cheerful associates. Every day is exciting to us; no wonder we tap-dance to work. But nothing is more fun for us than getting together with our shareholder-partners at Berkshire's annual meeting. So join us on May 3rd at the Qwest for our annual Woodstock for Capitalists. We'll see you there.