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Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) chairman Warren Buffett gave stock investors a real shot in the arm yesterday, announcing, in effect, the end of the U.S. recession. Stock markets are dutifully moving up today as investors begin reacting to the news. Problem is, investors may be overlooking one bit of trivia yesterday:
Even if Buffett thinks the recession is over, FedEx (NYSE: FDX ) says it isn't.
Bad news, and worse news
FedEx reported its fiscal first-quarter earnings results yesterday, and I guess you could find some good news in there if you looked really hard. FedEx affirmed its Q2 guidance -- which was only a few days old. Um, fuel costs are down. So that's good news for anyone who burns gas -- you, me, Delta Airlines ...
But everywhere else, it's bad news all 'round. Revenues dropped 20% from last year, FedEx lost 240 basis points worth of operating margin, and its operating profits got cut in half. Even worse than the headline numbers, though, are the bits of dicta contained in FedEx's report. A sampling:
- FedEx Express suffered a bigger revenue decline than did FedEx overall -- 23% -- while the unit's operating profit margin tumbled more than the overall company, 330 basis point. (And this is FedEx's biggest business unit.)
- FedEx Services took a smaller hit. The company said its loss was "primarily due to declines in copy product revenue," so you can guess that FedEx Office was the culprit here. Can you hear me now, UPS (NYSE: UPS ) ?
- But here's the real kicker: FedEx's Freight unit -- the people responsible for trucking big loads of goods to major less-than-truckload shipments to customers like Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) and Lowe's (NYSE: HD ) -- suffered the biggest drop of all as revenues tumbled 27% and operating profit margin dwindled to a mere 0.2%. Operating profits all but evaporated.
At the risk of courting a conviction for necrotic equine abuse, let me emphasize that last point for you: FedEx is still hurting everywhere, but it's feeling the most pain in shipments to major retailers. Revenues in this segment are down significantly, which suggests business is hurting across the country (as evidenced by Best Buy's recent results).
FedEx CFO Alan Graf sums up the situation thusly: despite "signs of improvement in the economy, the year-over-year comparisons will remain very difficult for our second quarter."
So is Buffett right? Is the recession truly over? Maybe. But there's still a lot of pain out there. Even if the worst is over, it's not gonna feel like it for at least another three months.
Track FedEx's progress: