Earnings estimates for Berkshire Hathaway's Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp railroad acquisition could signal weaker-than-anticipated U.S. industrial activity in 2010, according to a report in the December 28 issue of Barron's.
Railroads, which transport more than 40 percent of U.S. freight, are often used as a gauge for the industrial sector, the report said.
Major indexes now match -- or are close to matching -- 2009 highs, and many industrial stock valuations suggest significant recovery, Barron's said.
By contrast, Burlington managements' most optimistic earnings forecast is short of Street estimates. Management forecasts best-case earnings of $5.06 in 2010, compared with Wall Street consensus estimates of $5.50 per share, according to the report.
Managers said it was more likely that the economy would not begin its recovery until 2011, causing the railroad shares to earn only $4.40 in 2010, Barron's said.
The weak forecasts suggest Berkshire may have overpaid for Burlington Northern, according to the report. Burlington Northern's shares are currently trading at about $98.40, below Buffett's $100 bid, the report said.
JPMorgan railroad analyst Thomas Wadewitz wrote recently that Burlington's management may be conservative and may not provide a good read of the other railroads. But Assistant Vice President of Policy Analysis with the Association of American Railroads Dan Keen said that there is no V-shaped recovery, and that the recovery is shallow.
(Reporting by Clare Baldwin, editing by Maureen Bavdek)