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Buffett’s firm to miss 1st target in 44 years

– Warren Buffett probably missed his target for the first time in 44 years.

Berkshire Hathaway, his $292 billion company, is poised to report that it failed to increase net worth more rapidly than the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index during the past five years, according to analyst estimates. It would be the first time the billionaire investor fell short of the goal since he took over the Omaha, Neb.-based company in 1965.

Buffett, 83, highlights the comparison as a way for shareholders to evaluate his performance against a low-cost fund that tracks the index. The S&P 500 returned 128 percent including dividends since the end of 2008, fueled by the Federal Reserve’s stimulus efforts and higher corporate profits. Berkshire’s book value per Class A share, Buffett’s yardstick, rose 80 percent to $126,766 starting at the same point until Sept. 30, the latest data available.

“He’s been awfully honest” by keeping the goal the same, said Tom Russo, a partner at Berkshire investor Gardner Russo & Gardner.

Analyst estimates show that Buffett probably didn’t narrow the gulf much in the final three months of 2013. Barclays Plc predicts Berkshire’s book value rose to $131,005 a share, or 86 percent more than it was five years earlier. Keefe, Bruyette & Woods estimates an 83 percent gain.

Book value, a measure of assets minus liabilities, is often presented on a per-share basis to help investors compare a company’s net worth to its trading price. Buffett has said that if he’s able to add value more quickly than the S&P 500 rises, Berkshire shares should outperform the benchmark over time.

Buffett’s long-term track record is among the best in investing and responsible for making many of his early backers wealthy. Book value stood at just $19 a share when he took over and had compounded at almost 20 percent annually through 2012. That compares with 9.4 percent for the benchmark.

Buffett, Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive officer, didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment sent to an assistant.

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