Berkshire’s Rose ‘Very Bullish’ About Recovery, China Trade

Matt Rose, CEO and President of BNSF
Matt Rose, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNSF). Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Matt Rose, chief executive officer of the railroad business at Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said he is confident about economic expansion led by trade with Asia.

“I’m very, very bullish about the recovery,” Rose said today in an interview in Omaha, Nebraska, before Berkshire’s annual meeting. “It’s really driven by worldwide demand, specifically China.”

The U.S. economy has expanded for seven straight quarters, with gross domestic product increasing at a 1.8 percent annual rate in the three months ended March 31. Exports to China rose to $91.9 billion last year from $69.5 billion in 2009, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Commerce is expanding on the “big draw of commodities, as well as finished products going to China,” said Rose, who sold his Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad to Berkshire last year for $26.5 billion. The economic recovery is “better than what people report.”

Berkshire bought Burlington Northern in February 2010 in Buffett’s largest acquisition, a deal he called an “all-in wager” on the U.S. economy. Burlington Northern, the second-biggest U.S. railroad by sales, said revenue advanced 20 percent to $16.9 billion in 2010 from the year before. Larger rival Union Pacific Corp.’s annual revenue also climbed 20 percent last year.

‘Excess Cash’

Buffett has been withdrawing funds from the railroad after taking on $8 billion of debt to help finance the stock-and-cash acquisition. Berkshire took $2.25 billion in dividends from Fort Worth, Texas-based Burlington Northern through February, almost triple the railroad’s payout rate prior to the takeover. The sum includes a $1 billion payment in February.

“It was excess cash,” Rose said. Asked whether dividends will continue at the same pace as in the first 13 months of Berkshire’s ownership, Rose said “We hope so, we’ll see.”

Buffett is adding to a cash position at Berkshire that ended December at $38.2 billion, its highest since year-end 2007. Berkshire, which doesn’t pay a dividend to shareholders or buy back stock, is seeking acquisitions and facing payments on debt it issued last year.

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