updated 5/5/2006 7:33:57 PM ET 2006-05-05T23:33:57

Berkshire Hathaway Inc., billionaire Warren Buffett’s investment vehicle, reported a 70 percent jump in first-quarter earnings on strong performance from its investments and insurance businesses.

Berkshire’s net earnings were $2.3 billion, or $1,501 per share, for the three months ended March 31, compared with last year’s $1.4 billion, or $886 per share, according to Berkshire’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission released late Friday afternoon.

Berkshire earned $526 million on investments during the quarter, compared to a loss of $77 million a year ago.

Most of that gain came from the sale of some investments, but Berkshire also made money on its bet the dollar would fall. Before taxes, Berkshire made $151 million on its short position on the U.S. currency; last year, the company lost $307 million on that investment.

Berkshire’s insurance companies, which include auto insurer GEICO and reinsurance giant General Re, also reported earnings of $1.03 billion, up from $873 million last year. Those figures include earnings on both underwriting and investments the insurance companies made.

During the quarter, Berkshire completed acquisitions of the utility PacifiCorp and press-release distributor Business Wire. Those deals helped boost revenue to $23.9 billion in the quarter, up from $20.5 billion a year ago.

PacifiCorp and higher electricity sales helped Berkshire’s utility businesses earned $233 million during the first quarter, up 65 percent from $141 million last year.

Buffett built a 1956 partnership of four relatives and three close friends into a holding company with total assets of $198.3 billion at the end of 2005. Berkshire owns furniture, insurance, jewelry and candy companies, restaurants, natural gas and corporate jet firms and has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co., Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Wells Fargo & Co.

More than 20,000 people are expected to attend Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting in Omaha on Saturday, when Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger will field questions from the crowd for nearly six hours.

Berkshire officials did not immediately return calls for comment on the earnings report.

Shares of Berkshire stock gained $710, or less than 1 percent, Friday to close at $88,710 on the New York Stock Exchange. The company released its earnings after the market closed.

In the fourth quarter of 2005, Berkshire reported net income of $5.13 billion on revenue of $25.37 billion. The fourth-quarter figures were more than 50 percent higher than the same quarter a year ago, when Berkshire reported $3.34 billion in net earnings.

Berkshire announced two acquisitions, including one Friday, since Buffett released his annual letter to shareholders in March.

Berkshire said Friday that it will pay $5 billion for an 80 percent stake in privately held Iscar Metalworking Cos., which makes metal cutting tools. The company’s current owners, the Wertheimer family, will retain 20 percent ownership.

Berkshire announced last month that it will pay $597.2 million for Russell Corp., which makes sweat shirts, workout clothes and sporting goods. That deal is expected to close in the third quarter of this year.

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