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Berkshire & Burlington: what a way to run a railroad.
Old 09-02-2007, 11:58 AM   #1
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Berkshire & Burlington: what a way to run a railroad.

Burlington Northern: Berkshire Hathaway nearing 25% stake - MarketWatch

Berkshire has apparently notified Burlington of Berkshire's intent to acquire at least a 25% (controlling) stake in the company. At $600M it's a rounding error among Berkshire's $45B cash stash.

If I'm reading the numbers right (BNI Profile), Berkshire could buy up all the remaining $82 shares for under $25B. (It's nice to be able to write those checks!) Of course that's all negotiable presuming management & shareholders are cooperative. I can't tell whether Burlington feels this is hostile or helpful, although if they thought it was hostile I suspect we'd have heard about it by now.

I have to admit that I don't get it, and this is why I hold Berkshire shares-- Buffett is apparently seeing something that we don't. BNI seems to have nice margins but I wouldn't have expected the difference between trucking & railways to be that great. Ratios don't look that special and the only apparent advantage to having Berkshire as an owner would be easy access to expansion capital and the usual executive cashout/estate planning. Buffett's certainly scooping up a lot of infrastructure assets in the last 10 years but for some reason he sees rail as being better than air. Or maybe a better way to say it is that in his opinion rail doesn't suck as much as air.

Anyone here in the railway/transportation industry? Any insider perspectives?

Maybe the gecko and the cavemen wanted to drive the locomotives...
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Old 09-02-2007, 12:09 PM   #2
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I always assumed it was an indirect bet on peak oil. If the price of oil goes higher, rail becomes more attractive.
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Old 09-02-2007, 12:40 PM   #3
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I always assumed it was an indirect bet on peak oil. If the price of oil goes higher, rail becomes more attractive.
Me too - in a vague sort of way. I'd like to hear the nuts and bolts nitty gritty why rail becomes more profitable as oil rises in price.

heh heh heh - a few shares of Union Pacific(Norwegian widow DRIPwise) AND a free 2008 calender.
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Old 09-02-2007, 12:43 PM   #4
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Guess who's the #2 buyer of diesel? I think it's the railroad. But, I guess they're still a pretty efficient use of diesel.

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Old 09-02-2007, 03:00 PM   #5
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Ditto the comments on cost of transportation.

Apparently he has invested in two others also.

StreetInsider.com - CNBC Said Besides BNI Buffett Invested In Another NA Railroad Stock


Plus, if we (as a nation) begin to increase the use of local resources for alternative energy... the rails and barge systems will likely benefit. For example, if we do ramp up usage of coal or is we start increasing the production of grain for ethanol... somebody has to haul it. And it will go to centralized facilities.

Rail is fairly efficient mode to haul freight compared to trucks. And barges do not go everywhere.

Environmental Advantages

It looks like BNI has had a healthy increase in income over the last several years. I have not analyzed their financials... But you can bet that Warren has.

I think the railroad companies have been able to utilize information technology to more efficiently manage their operations by better tracking of their cars... an age old problem.
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Old 09-07-2007, 10:57 PM   #6
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Why buy railroads when you can buy oil?
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Old 09-08-2007, 06:37 AM   #7
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Why buy railroads when you can buy oil?

You will have to ask Warren that question.
When he buys in... I think does it for the long haul (no pun intended). He must see something that aligns with his style.


I think BRK.A does have some Petro holdings.
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Old 09-08-2007, 11:41 AM   #8
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I think BRK.A does have some Petro holdings.
Some PetroChina and ConocoPhilips.
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Old 09-08-2007, 12:11 PM   #9
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Why buy railroads when you can buy oil?
I think it's reasonable to look at the second order effects of high oil prices. If a commodity price gets high enough, demand has to weaken. That will impact profits from any direct oil plays. And that demand should be taken up by existing alternatives. Fuel-efficient rail doesn't look like a bad play. Especially since the moat is HUGE. Try putting down a new cross-country rail line today.
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Old 09-09-2007, 05:49 PM   #10
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Some PetroChina and ConocoPhilips.
Does anyone know if BH has said why they have bought into these 2 companies? It doesn't make sense to me unless Warren is seeing refining and product margins holding up for the long haul (which they might). Even then, the time to buy these were perhaps 3-4 years ago, not in 2005-2006.
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Old 09-09-2007, 06:11 PM   #11
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Does anyone know if BH has said why they have bought into these 2 companies?
From the annual reports it looks like BRK bought its PetroChina shares in 2003 for $488M. The 2006 annual report marks their value at $3313M, for an annual return of barely 89%. Gosh, I can't figure out why Buffett bought them either!

Even at $3B it's a drop in the bucket to a company with a market cap of $170B.
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Old 09-09-2007, 06:20 PM   #12
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You know I heard that Warren broke down (at Bill Gates urging) and finally bought a computer to play Bridge over the Internet.

I ah er kept my Union Pacific stock DRIP - way back when even though they cut their dividend - BUT I still get my 'free' calender every year(with the cho cho pictures).

Since Warren owns more than one rail stock - I wonder if he gets a 'free' calender from each.

heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh - they write books(and tons of articles) on how Warren 'sees' the numbers BEFORE they develop. Intrinsic value is still a mystery to me - like the calenders though!
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Old 09-12-2007, 02:16 PM   #13
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From the annual reports it looks like BRK bought its PetroChina shares in 2003 for $488M. The 2006 annual report marks their value at $3313M, for an annual return of barely 89%. Gosh, I can't figure out why Buffett bought them either!

Even at $3B it's a drop in the bucket to a company with a market cap of $170B.

Apparently Buffet is selling PetroChina (a little at a time).
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Old 09-12-2007, 02:48 PM   #14
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Apparently Buffet is selling PetroChina (a little at a time).
Given frothy Chinese valuations, this probably makes sense. An unusual move by Warren to flip stock, but hey, this may have been seen as one of those few 'no lose' propositions to make some bucks back in 2003.

Would still like to understand why he bought into COP though.. for the refining margins he saw increasing (as they did particularly in 2004-2006)? I doubt it was because of COP's Russian venture given the unpredictability of Putin.
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Old 09-12-2007, 03:03 PM   #15
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John McPhee has written about railroads and their employees, and has ridden on a BN coal train from the mine to the power plant. He mentioned that hauling low sulfur coal in the West has resurrected RR lines that were dying from trucking and inefficientcy. BN is the best run RR. Of McPhee's 30? books, I don't know which one has the info. If you are a BH shareholder, reading McPhee would be informative about their new acquisition.
I agree with twaddle about the moat. They aren't making any more RR right of way. The existing right of way has visible rails and buried gasoline and communication pipelines.
If you have driven on Interstate 40 across Arizona and New Mexico, you've raced those long trains of double stacked cargo containers full of Chinese goods headed east. The locomotives may still be Santa Fe RR sunset colors, but the initials are now BNSF.
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Old 09-12-2007, 03:10 PM   #16
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Given frothy Chinese valuations, this probably makes sense. An unusual move by Warren to flip stock, but hey, this may have been seen as one of those few 'no lose' propositions to make some bucks back in 2003.

Would still like to understand why he bought into COP though.. for the refining margins he saw increasing (as they did particularly in 2004-2006)? I doubt it was because of COP's Russian venture given the unpredictability of Putin.
That sounds like a good reason. Average out and take some profit.

Not sure if this is true... but a cnbc person cited it was being sold because some shareholders are upset with Petrochina's links to Sudan.
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Old 09-12-2007, 05:50 PM   #17
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Rail is fairly efficient mode to haul freight compared to trucks. And barges do not go everywhere.

Environmental Advantages
Interesting link. But hey, in a few years, if the Global Warming predictions are correct, barges WILL go almost everywhere!

Ya gotta look for the silver lining

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Old 09-15-2007, 08:49 AM   #18
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. . . Buffett is apparently seeing something that we don't. BNI seems to have nice margins but I wouldn't have expected the difference between trucking & railways to be that great. Ratios don't look that special and the only apparent advantage to having Berkshire as an owner would be easy access to expansion capital and the usual executive cashout/estate planning. Buffett's certainly scooping up a lot of infrastructure assets in the last 10 years but for some reason he sees rail as being better than air. Or maybe a better way to say it is that in his opinion rail doesn't suck as much as air.

Anyone here in the railway/transportation industry? Any insider perspectives?
How about an outsider one?

Maybe we need to know what the current cost of hauling materials per ton is among trucks and trains? My guess it that the differential is substantial. I think as the price of transport fuel increases to a larger portion of transportation costs for all of us consumers, we'll see a paradigm shift to more use of trains to haul cargo, more sophisticated distribution and hand-off techniques to reach the final point of sale or use. And by owning a rail road he owns the first trickle down point and may control or have sway over what happens after that first leg of distribution.

I think Buffett mostly looks long-term, and I believe he sees major changes in basic operations/infrastructure models. I suspect a re-rationalization of the American transportation system is just beginning. Cavemen? Off with their heads! Lizards . . . ? De-election them!
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Old 09-15-2007, 09:37 AM   #19
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Not to mention drywall -17 mil shares or so - the man is nothing if not patient. Dribs and drabs thru the asbesto litigation cycle, thru the real estate bubble - a little loan - a few shares.

And that dirty old man bought my Clayton Homes and Bandag too cheap - the skinflint.

I do watch what he buys over the years.

heh heh heh - I'm keeping my UNP calender for next year.
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Old 09-15-2007, 03:48 PM   #20
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And by owning a rail road he owns the first trickle down point and may control or have sway over what happens after that first leg of distribution.
If memory serves me correct, BRK bought McLane (a huge distribution company) from WalMart a few years ago.
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