OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ Berkshire Hathaway reported its 1998 earnings rose 43 percent from the previous year on a strong performance from its Geico car insurance business.

Berkshire, the firm founded by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, released only its annual earnings Tuesday. Fourth-quarter results were expected to be announced Saturday.

For 1998, Berkshire reported $2.8 billion in earnings, or $2,262 per Class A share, up from 1997's $1.9 billion, or $1,542 per share.

Geico, Berkshire's largest operation before its $22 billion acquisition of reinsurance company General Re Corp. of Stamford, Conn., was an important contributor to operating earnings with an underwriting profit margin of 6.7 percent for the year.

In its third quarter report, Berkshire also credited Geico for good returns in helping Berkshire weather stock market swings.

Berkshire holds investments in companies including Coca-Cola Co., Gillette Co. and American Express Corp. It also owns furniture, shoe and candy companies.

In its yearend report, Berkshire put earnings from operations in 1998 at $1.2 billion, and investment gains at $1.5 billion. In 1997, operating earnings were $1.1 billion, and investment gains were $704 million.