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FedEx Tells Warren Buffett: The Check's Not in the Mail

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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."

Foolish takeaway
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:

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. Best Buy, Berkshire Hathaway, and FedEx are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Best Buy, Berkshire Hathaway, and Lowe's Companies are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. United Parcel Service is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy and Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (14)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 18, 2009, at 4:18 PM, bhaskarb wrote:

    Buffet did not claim that the economy is improving, he still claims its lousy but that the "depression" scenario is no more...

  • Report this Comment On September 18, 2009, at 4:33 PM, TigerPack1 wrote:

    When FDX reports its first YOY (year-over-year) gain in total revenues likely in the February Quarter of 2010, FDX's stock price will be over $100 a share, well above the $35 stock low in March-April!

    When there is NO dispute about the health of the economy next year, the Dow will surely be above 11,000 if not 12,000.

    Waiting for the recession to "officially" end before making an investment decision, has been a horrible investment strategy in past cycles, and this one has proven no different. Same ole, same ole, based on my 25 years of trading and investing.

    P.S. the revenue/sales comparisons YOY will be quite positive in another 3-6 months for the majority of businesses, and the stock market is already "discounting" a nice UPTURN in economic activity in 2010.

  • Report this Comment On September 18, 2009, at 10:05 PM, petergunn34 wrote:

    Hmmm....Let me see if I have this right. The world's greatest investor (who did not see the start of the recession and took billions in market losses in the value of Berkshire Hathaway), is now able to see with his crystal ball that the recession is over. I'll believe the recession is over when Charlie Munger agrees its over. Then again, Warren may be right. This recession may be over. Perhaps the start of the double dip recession is just over the horizon? What happened to the $12 Trillion or so in toxic assets. Can anyone here say, and all together now, "Mark to market".

  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2009, at 9:29 AM, deadlysaber wrote:

    Many parts of the world are in recession or at least facing a downturn in the economy. At these times, redundancies and cutbacks are announced on almost a daily basis. Like all events, the current economic challenges present the opportunity for learning for current business leaders.


    Money without intelligence is like a car without a road.

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